Murray in the middle and glad to be out of critics' corner

JAMES MURRAY is taking nothing for granted. The Tallow stalwart spent almost the entire League campaign at centre-back, and is virtually assured of his place in the Waterford team for Sunday's clash Cork in the Guinness Munster hurling semi-final.

But he can't be sure of where exactly he will be picked.

It will be influenced by whatever decision the management take in relation to Ken McGrath.

Interestingly, however, the Mount Sion star was operating at midfield the day he broke his collar bone, in the National Hurling League opener at home to Kilkenny.

And Murray was wearing the number six jersey, filled with such distinction by McGrath last season, and before him, for many years by Fergal Hartley.

And, while Hartley has grown accustomed to the full-back berth after coming out of retirement, Murray is relishing the prospect of playing his first major championship game in the half-back line.

"I played for most of the League at centre-back and I enjoyed it. I was never really a corner-back. I played all my club hurling down the middle of the field,'' he explains.

The reason he ended up playing for Waterford at corner-back at the start, he suspects, was one of necessity.

"We didn't have a whole heap of them at the time. I was probably easier to convert than most fellows. But I would never have been that comfortable or happy there. I would much rather be out the field."

During his tenure in the full-back line, he varied between corners.

"Back there you're always going to be on a top-class forward and myself and Eoin Murphy tended to move around.

"There would be a difference of pace between us, maybe Eoin might take the faster fellow, or I might take the bigger fellow.

"I don't think when Justin (McCarthy) picks the team he worries much about which corner you're going into. As a result we don't worry about it either.''

Reflecting on the League, he feels that he benefited from the experience of playing at centre-back, that as the games went on he "just settled" into the position.

He enjoys playing there because of the freedom it gives him. There's not the same pressure, he points out.

You can 'get away with it' a bit more, get involved in the play, hurl a bit more, in short not to be so worried about the man at your shoulder.

While they lacked consistency in the league, they were involved in a lot of experimentation.

"We were a bit disappointed not to make the play-offs, but it wasn't the end of the world. Cork got into the winners' section, but really only one team came out of the League happy - and that was Kilkenny. Last year we were upset at losing the final because none of us has a League medal. We put it behind us fairly quickly.

"You know what's important from the start of the year, what's really important ... it's championship matches that people remember.''

Having honed his hurling skills in the Dr Harty and Fitzgibbon Cups (with St Colman's and UCC), he realised he was lucky to have come through to the senior team "at the right time".

Having shared in the county's first Munster final triumph in 39 years, he went off a five-month break the following November. It took him to Australia and the Pacific Islands and he was pleasantly surprised to find his place was kept for him on his return.

Beating Cork in last season's Munster final will put them under a bit more pressure on Sunday, but it's not as if they are not used to pressure.

"Before the draw was made I could have told you we would get Cork," he joked.

"That's the way things seem to turn out. Deep down they wouldn't be happy with what happened last year. It was just a matter of backs-to-the-wall stuff. Fellows stood up in our team and were counted a bit more. Maybe Cork didn't use their advantage (of an extra man) that well. You wouldn't know if you could repeat that on Sunday. They will see it as payback time.

"That will be said in the Cork dressing-room before the game. But at the end of the day whether you win or lose, you are going to have to put it behind you and get on with it.''

He has no doubt that their challenge will be undermined if they have to start without McGrath and Paul Flynn, agreeing it would be "a big ask" to beat Cork without the pair.

"It would damage our prospects without a doubt, to lose two players of that calibre. They are vital to our team. They have been for Waterford for a long time."

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