It’s no minor matter

WHEN it comes to the All-Ireland MHC there is one manager who stands head and shoulders above everyone else – Galway’s Mattie Murphy.

Five titles his youngsters have won so far and this Sunday another Mattie Murphy-managed team will contest another final. In the semi-final Galway met a hugely-fancied Clare side that impressed everyone in the hurling world in its triumphant march through Munster, but even before that game the word was already emanating from the west – Mattie had a team to take them.

Take them they did, and though it took extra-time, they did so very impressively in the end. So, what’s the secret?

“Minors are minors, very unpredictable, not the most consistent. They’re at a very vulnerable age and if they’re being blown up a bit a lot of them will start to believe the hype, think they’re better than they actually are and forget about what got them there in the first place which was pure hard work – they forget that they’re just a small cog in a big wheel and start to think they’re the wheel itself.

“In a team game you’re only as good as the lads beside you, and if you start to put yourself above the team there’s no longer any room for you. You know the saying, there’s no I in team, so there’s no room for ego – that’s my philosophy.

“We were ready for Clare, we knew what we had to do. We had played them in a couple of challenge games, had seen them at games, on DVD. I’d be pretty au fait with everything that’s happening on the minor scene, go to a lot of matches around the country – it isn’t by accident that the homework is done.

“We knew exactly where Clare were strong and we had to either match them there or by-pass them and we did a bit of both. We bypassed midfield initially with the short puck-out, we ended up with two fellas in midfield who were really able to hurl, way above average. I was disappointed in our first-half performance but we turned it around.”

If you had asked me beforehand I’d have said I was worried about how our defence would cope but all our changes were made from midfield forward.

“We had tried games among ourselves, good battles, the B team more than matching the A team on a few occasions. If you know you have someone on the bench who can bring something to the table you must give him the opportunity. Sometimes you’ll even take off someone who’s not playing all that badly and you risk getting crucified afterwards if the sub doesn’t play well.

He knows all about crucifixion, does Mattie. In any other county, with his outstanding record at minor level over the last decade, he would now be an obvious candidate for the senior position should John McIntyre choose not to stay on in Galway. He did have the job before, two spells (1994-’96 and 1998-200), won two National Leagues and a Railway Cup, but the Holy Grail eluded him and he suffered accordingly. Would he go again?

“I’ve been there twice, offered my services twice since and was rejected. The one that is still boiling inside of me and just won’t go away is 2001. In 2000 we lost one competitive game all year – one, to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final, a team that had lost the two previous All-Ireland finals and went on to win that year.

“That was the CV we brought into 2001, yet the board gave it to a manager (Noel Lane) who had failed to deliver with two minor teams and two U21 teams. He got the job by putting together a so-called Dream Team with John Connolly and Mike McNamara. That was the first time that had happened. Up to that a manager got the job on his own merits, then put his management team together, and that’s the way it should be.

“What we’ve had since is all these different circuses. At one stage we put in a fella– ‘Oh, he was a lucky captain (Conor Hayes, captained Galway to All-Ireland success in 1987 and ‘88), he might have luck again as a manager’, and it almost worked.

“But he had no background in management, had never taken an underage team at any level, was just parachuted into senior management.

“Hard to believe but there’s a theory gathering momentum within the county at the moment that all the underage success is actually part of our problem – I’d love to engage with those people and discuss their logic. But it’s been thrown out there and now it’s gaining credence within the county, becoming the gospel, that winning All-Ireland minor and U21 isn’t doing any service to Galway hurling.

“It’s widely known that my face doesn’t fit with a lot of people – I think that’s part of the reason. I call a spade a spade and that kind of person isn’t generally popular. I have no regrets for anything I’ve ever said, I fight tooth and nail for anything I believe in and I can guarantee you this much, I’ll never arrive anywhere with a team I’m not happy with. If anyone tries to hinder my preparations with a team, I won’t stand for it; I won’t arrive in Croke Park with a team that isn’t fully ready.”

His record bears that out. They’ll be tested to the limit this Sunday by a Dublin team that took Waterford apart in their semi-final but win or lose one thing is certain – Galway will be ready, Mattie Murphy will make sure of that.

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