The WIT captain, having lined out at wing-forward in all three Fitzgibbon Cup group games last month, was called upon my manager Colm Bonnar to fill the number six shirt for the quarter-final clash against DIT. Hesitant he was, but WIT were fast running out of solutions to solve their defensive headache.
Bonnar described the switch “as robbing Peter to pay Paul”, but Murphy’s redeployment proved a masterstroke and there he would remain, an instrumental cog in Saturday’s final win over Cork IT.
The WIT half-back line ruled with an iron fist throughout, with Murphy and Joe O’Dwyer providing the launchpad for the majority of their first-half scores, Murphy also getting on the scoresheet with an absolute belter from distance.
Into the second period and their influence told noticeably when CIT gained parity on 37 minutes following three white flags on the bounce. Pat Mulcahy’s charges exhausted every sinew in attempting to edge in front, ultimately coming unstuck against a hugely stubborn and frugal rearguard. A barrage of attacks was resisted and when Harry Kehoe pointed at the other end in the subsequent action the winners set sail for home.
“Tomás Hamill and Joe O’Dwyer were either side of me and I was onto them the whole time to make sure my positioning was okay as this [playing centre-back] is still relatively new to me. I got a couple of roars of them when I roamed forward which I’m sure the cameras picked up on; they really kept me on my toes,” he said.
“It was crucial we never let them in front because doubt could have set in, the fact we had played extra-time Friday and would we have it in our legs to reel CIT in? We just kept our noses in front and really drove it on then at the finish. Harry Kehoe and Jake Dillon were brilliant, popping over points from all angles.”
Ranked 9/1 outsiders of the weekend, Murphy revealed WIT took grave offence to their underdog status.
“Questions were asked of us all weekend. Yesterday we put in a great performance against LIT. Our backs were to the wall. We were 10 points down with 10 minutes gone in the second half. We dug deep and we got through to the final so we said, why not? Why not us?
“Today was unreal. I’m going around on a little buzz.”
WIT, having laboured out of the blocks against LIT, were keen to avoid a second such offence and plundered four unanswered points through Pauric Mahony (two frees), Jake Dillon and Murphy by the sixth minute. In stark contrast, Pat Mulcahy’s outfit lacked composure and confidence; gone was the swashbuckling approach which thwarted UCC a day earlier.
John O’Dwyer, Conor Hammersley, David Drake and Bill Cooper all found the target as CIT eventually announced themselves to proceedings. Having reduced the gap to the minimum (0-8 to 0-7), WIT, crucially, reestablished a three-point cushion nearing the interval with Jake Dillon, from an acute of angles, and Cathal Kenny firing over, the latter turning in a superb first-half shift, notching three points in the process.
CIT, as noted, enjoyed their most productive spell early in the second half — Hammersley, O’Dwyer and Mark Ellis on radar in levelling proceedings at 0-10 apiece. Having absorbed everything CIT could throw at them, WIT through Kehoe, Mahony (free) and Dillon moved clear again entering the final quarter. John Cronin sniped a pair of points to leave it finely balanced coming down the stretch, WIT, however, fastened a tight grip on affairs by this juncture with Dillon and Kehoe sharing four late points for a rather comfortable victory in the end.
Last word then to that jack of several trades Murphy: “It is the Fitzgibbon Cup final and when you go to college this is what you dream of. It is absolutely unbelievable.”
Scorers for WIT: P Mahony (4fs), J Dillon (0-4 each), C Kenny, H Kehoe (0-3 each), E Murphy, L McGrath, J Hayes (0-1 each).
Scorers for CIT: J O’Dwyer (0-5, 3fs), C Hammersley, J Cronin (0-2 each), D Drake, M Ellis, B Cooper (0-1 each).
WIT: S O’Keefe (Waterford); G Teehan (Kilkenny), P Gahan (Kilkenny), J Maher (Waterford); T Hamill (Tipperary), E Murphy (Kilkenny), J O’Dwyer (Kilkenny); J Langton (Kilkenny), S Roche (Waterford); C Kenny (Kilkenny), P Mahony (Waterford), G O’Brien (Waterford); H Kehoe (Wexford), L McGrath (Tipperary), J Dillon (Waterford).
Subs: J Hayes (Kilkenny) for McGrath (46), A Kenny (Wexford) for O’Dwyer (inj, 51), M Power (Kilkenny) for Kenny (59).
CIT (Cork unless stated): S Nyhan; S Murphy, A Dennehy, T Lawrence; M Ellis, E Keane, P Butler; B Cooper, W Murphy; J O’Dwyer (Tipperary), J Cronin, C Hammersley (Tipperary); D Drake, D Dooley, J Coughlan.
Subs: K O’Connor for Coughlan (23), K Hallissey for Drake (37), D Corbett (Tipperary) for Murphy (45), J Lonergan (Tipperary) for Corbett (inj, 54), W Murphy for Cooper (57).
Referee: J McGrath (Westmeath).
Cork IT reduced the deficit to the minimum (0-13 to 0-12) entering the final quarter, but failed subsequently to capitalise on three successive scoring opportunities to gain parity, including a rare goal opening driven wide by Daniel Dooley. On 51 minutes, Waterford IT substitute Johnny Hayes pushed it out to a two-point ball game. The winners never looked back.
Colm Bonnar. The Tipperary man captained WIT to their first Fitzgibbon Cup title in 1995, at the age of 31. Saturday’s victory was his fifth as manager. Midas touch.
Jake Dillon’s fourth point — the final score of the contest — was ridiculously good. 21 yards out from goal but standing on the far sideline, the full-forward somehow squeezed the leather between the sticks, not to mention the two red-and-white hooped shirts in close attention.
Big call this one. Wing-back Joe O’Dwyer gets the nod despite exiting the field nine minutes from time through injury. Just shades the verdict from centre-back Eoin Murphy, giving a fair impression of the dominance exerted by WIT’s half-back line.
CIT’s lack of panel depth was highlighted in the last quarter, none of the subs introduced having the desired effect, but Mulcahy was hardly to blame for this. Colm Bonnar started Harry Kehoe at corner-forward, having lined out at wing-forward in the semi-final, and the move paid dividends as it freed Jake Dillon of sole responsibility inside, the pair contributing seven points.
James McGrath was lenient, with CIT hard done by in a number of calls.
Next year’s preparations will be mapped out soon.