The first lesson is an easy one, says Paul Murphy. Being on the Kilkenny hurling panel means learning to bide your time.
“You have to be patient. You can’t expect to come in and expect to start because you’ve an All-Ireland minor medal, for instance.
“You learn a lot about a player if he serves his time and comes through after a few knocks — you see the determination in him, and the jersey’s that bit sweeter as a result. If you’re watching lads win All-Irelands or leagues you want to be out there, and the graft in getting there makes it sweet, and if you get the jersey you’re determined not to relinquish it, too.
“Fellas do come in, Walter Walsh did it in the All-Ireland a few years ago, and fair play, but it’s very hard to do. Fellas get experience in that way. Ger Aylward is another fella — he played against Tipperary in 2013 but again, he spent last year not really in the reckoning, he didn’t get a start. This year fellas were probably looking at Kevin Kelly, John Joe Farrell, but Ger never gave up and proved himself against Wexford. It was last-minute, maybe, but he got his head in the door and proved himself.”
With the loss of people like Jackie Tyrrell, Kilkenny need to draw on those reserves.
“I wouldn’t call it a blow, a big change is what it is, Jackie is the most experienced player there,” says Murphy.
“You know what you’ll get from him on any given day, but we probably have three or four players fighting for his jersey the last while, and this is probably a chance for them that wasn’t foreseen a few weeks ago.
“It was unlucky for Jackie to happen 10 days before an All-Ireland semi-final, it’s unfortunate for him but we have to get on with it.”
Murphy has been impressed with Waterford’s summer. “They’re league champions and they were unlucky in the Munster final. When Dublin put it up to them the last day, they had leaders to stand up, the likes of Maurice Shanahan and Kevin Moran.
“They’ve just been so consistent the last while. It was tough in Thurles the last day with the rain that came down but they still looked impressive. They did what they needed to do and did that very well.”
The Waterford approach means some Kilkenny defenders may be spare on Sunday as the Déise drop deep, but Murphy won’t be working himself up over the permutations.
“Brian, Mick and the lads are great to see how another team is playing — I don’t burden myself with breaking that down.
“If I’m free because that’s the way Waterford play, fair enough, but the lads will tell us how they want us to line out. If they want us to stay free with Waterford’s system, we’ll do that, but I haven’t burdened myself with how Waterford are playing.
“If you’re free you have to work twice as hard — the dynamic of not marking a man is that you should be able to get on more ball, and you’re not likely to have a lad skinning you.
“It means reading the game, where the ball is going to drop.
“If you see a ball coming out of the other team’s defence you have to read where it’s going— ‘this is probably going to land on our 45, I’ve to be over there and if I don’t win the break I’ve to get in there and make sure the opposing forwards don’t get a run in on goal’.
“A lot of it is drifting, if someone has the ball you’re on hand to take it off them to clear it.”
It’s certainly different to the traditional defender’s posting. “If you’re marking a man, you know your job,” says Murphy. “It’s to follow a man and to stop him scoring, to limit his influence on the game. If you’re spare, that’s gone. You can pick up as much ball as you want.
“It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other: I don’t mind, but if you’re the free man you have to impose yourself on the game that bit more.”
The Kilkenny forwards, like TJ Reid, are a fair test in training, he adds. “You see that in training and you know that in a match it’s on your side. Mentally going into a match it’s a massive lift knowing that.
“TJ’s selling calf nuts, maybe he’s eating a few of them! He’s bigger, but he’s very dedicated. He probably realises that it’s not enough to be skillful, that players in hurling and football have to be physically fit. The idea you just puck a ball off the wall is gone.
“He knows if he does his work in the gym that it’ll improve his skills. Marking the likes of Seamus Hickey or Noel Connors, they’re big men, and you need the strength to break the tackle.”
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