Sure, there was a huge degree of personal satisfaction involved in watching Galway’s march to an All-Ireland senior hurling final but Mattie Murphy is not one to go shouting about his contribution from the rooftops.
Twelve of the 19 players who featured for Galway against Cork in last Sunday’s semi-final passed through Murphy’s hands in the minor ranks. The former school principal, now 62, is in the fifth year of a third spell at the helm and targeting a seventh All-Ireland minor title from 12 attempts.
He managed the seniors for two spells (1994-’96 and 1998-2000) and the passion exhibited by Galway’s fans in Dublin last weekend took him back to the 1980s and the golden era for hurling in the county. Joe Canning, Niall Donohue, Johnny Coen, Niall Burke, David Burke, Cyril Donnellan — just some of the stars that Murphy has nurtured.
But he has a confession to make. When Galway lost to Kilkenny by 25 points in the league in the spring, Murphy was sceptical.
“I felt at that stage that they had gone overboard on the youth policy,” he explains. “But you need to realise now that hurling is a young man’s game. Tipp came through in 2010 with so many of the minors from ’06 and ’07.
“The U21 team had a big crossover [with the seniors] and that’s where Galway are at the moment. They have a blend of experience and a lot of youth.”
The vast majority of Murphy’s focus, naturally, centres around tomorrow’s Electric Ireland All-Ireland MHC showdown with Munster champions Tipperary. But he’s also happy to speak about the progress of the seniors under Anthony Cunningham.
“A lot of the pundits have made a lot of the fact that we’re gone back to defence and this kind of stuff.
“We would have been no good to anybody having a cracking game and losing by a point. Semi-finals are for getting to a final, nothing else.”
And sitting there, Murphy began to realise just how much it meant. Liam MacCarthy hasn’t crossed West of the Shannon since 1988 and the hunger for a senior All-Ireland has now reached voracious levels.
“There was a huge Galway crowd,” Murphy reflects. “You’d have to go back to the 1980s to find a bigger Galway following. But the vibe over the last couple of weeks was that a lot of people would have fancied our chances of winning this semi-final. Cork didn’t strike fear into the hearts of many Galway people.
“I would have been a small bit worried if Waterford had come through. They would have posed a totally different problem, made life difficult for us.”
And so Galway’s move into second half of August with dreams of an All-Ireland ‘clean sweep’ still alive. Just three of Murphy’s starting 15 from last September’s minor final victory over Dublin are still around but they’re big players in big positions — Paul Killeen at full-back, centre back Sean Sweeney, free-scoring Jason Flynn. But Murphy is slightly concerned on two fronts.
One, he insists that Tipp have an obvious advantage in terms of support tomorrow.
And two, he recalls how Tipp won by 2-20 to 0-9 when the counties met in the Tipperary Supporters Club All-Ireland U16 final two years ago.
“You’d have to say that last year must have been a serious disappointment to all Tipperary people,” says Murphy. “At U16 level they were head and shoulders above everything else.
“Anybody watching underage hurling for the last four or five years would say to you, this is where you would expect this Tipperary team to be. Unless we have improved a lot in two years, we’re in trouble.”
TIPPERARY (All-Ireland MHC v Galway): P Maher (Moyne Templetuohy); R Maher (Thurles Sarsfields), M Breen (Ballina), J Peters (Kilruane MacDonaghs); T Fox (Éire Óg Annacarty Donohill), T Hamill (Killea), B Heffernan (Nenagh Éire Óg); B Maher (Kilsheelan Kilcash) capt, J McGrath (Loughmore Castleiney); T Gallagher (Kildangan), J Shelly (Mullinahone), S O’Brien (Ballina); S Cahill (Thurles Sarsfields), K Slattery (Gortnahoe Glengoole), M McCarthy (Toomevara).
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