Waterford selector Eoin Murphy at a press day in Dungarvan last week. Photos: Inpho.
All-Ireland SHC Semi-final: Waterford v Cork: Inside the Waterford camp: Selector Eoin Murphy
Déise selector Eoin Murphy endured six All Ireland semi final losses on the field of play. 2006 was the cruellest perhaps.
Unlike other last four experiences, they were in the driver’s seat for most of the second half after Eoin Kelly tapped home straight from the restart. “That was the third one since 2002 when I joined the panel. It was a tough day. We knew on our day that we had the beating of Cork if we were to bring it close to our A game. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it and we had to wait another few years to get over the line in a semi final.”
Waterford led 1-11 to 0-12 with thirteen minutes remaining when a nineteen year old named Cathal Naughton was introduced in place of Neil Ronan. The championship debutant sparkled for Newtownshandrum during their run to the All Ireland club final. “We knew straight away that Cathal Naughton equals speed! If he got the ball into his hand, it was going to be dangerous. He was young at that stage but he got his chance and took it. I suppose it killed us and really set us back. We didn’t recover from it in the end.”
1-1 in the space of two mesmerising minutes transformed the match but Justin McCarthy’s team very nearly clawed it all back. John Mullane’s fourth point entering injury time left the champions clinging on by the bare minimum. Murphy kept his fingers crossed as Ken McGrath sized up that 73rd minute free into Hill 16. “There was a little prayer going up from me at the time! In fairness to Ken, he was such a good striker that you’d have said that you’ve a chance. Dónal Óg managed to get it out. It was such a pity. It comes down to those inches at the end of the day. In 2004, Declan Prendergast flicked the ball away and Seamus got a point into the wind. It should have been a Cork goal but it was a brilliant interception and we got a score. That’s how games can ebb and flow.”
The Croke Park pitch resembled an ice rink throughout that semi final as the rain teemed down. “There was always a question about your footwear up in Croke Park,” Murphy recalls. “For a corner back, believe me it was six stud all the way because one slip and you were going to be in trouble. A lot of lads were going with blades and different things. We had the same up in Páirc Uí Chaoimh with the new surface. I spoke with the Cork intermediate manager before it and they went six stud across the board. Thankfully the injuries seem to have died down up in Croke Park.”
At the beginning of the summer, the 2006 All Star defender never envisaged that he would don a Waterford tracksuit again and end up embroiled in another Croker confrontation. Timing was everything.
The Shamrocks stalwart togged out in both intermediate hurling and junior football competitions last year but he needed to step off the treadmill. When 2017 dawned, he sought a breather from club activity. “You probably won’t believe me but my gear was up in the attic until the tenth of June! I took a decision at the start of the year where having turned 38 at Christmas and also with three kids and Leona at home that I wanted a break. I hadn’t retired but I let the management in the club know that I just needed a break and that break was going to be five months. You know what, I enjoyed it. To take hurling out of my life, because it’s been such a big part for so long, I enjoyed it. I went off and I did other little things, I went running and a few other hobbies that I have interest in. I pursued them for a little bit and we were able to go away for a weekend and not worry about the WhatsApp or what the team were doing.”
The approach from Derek McGrath was perfectly scheduled. “It was a bit like the stars aligned because the management got onto me at the start of June and I said ‘just give me another two or three weeks’. Derek contacted me then about a week later. I hadn’t been involved with any team, I just took a complete break but when this opportunity came up to come in at that time, because living outside of Waterford the commitment is huge. The big thing I’ve seen since I’ve come in is the amount of time and effort that people have to put in. The players put it in obviously but behind the scenes, Derek, the management and the backroom staff, I was blown away by the organisation and the structures that are in place to facilitate the team competing at this level. I was excited when I got asked and I couldn’t do this without the support at home. Everyone needs to row in to allow me to go down. Life is a lot about luck and timing and I fully believe in that.”
The Munster semi final loss came as an unexpected blip on the chart. Murphy spent that mid-June afternoon in the New Stand but offered words of encouragement to the players afterwards and never lost faith in their ability to return to the semis via the backdoor. “In the dressing room after the Cork game I didn’t want to say anything because I was only in the background. I knew that this team was capable of great things and while the heads were down, I said just a couple of words to reiterate that I was a hundred per cent determined and no matter what road we had to take that we could turn it around. On the Tuesday night, we had a great session and a great talk. At that stage, there was nine teams in the qualifiers and the nine teams had all been beaten, that was the one common denominator. We decided that night to go a day at a time and that we wanted to be one of the two that came out eventually.”
The much-heralded Cork sextet had the Waterford backs at full stretch. Patrick Horgan, Alan Cadogan and Seamus Harnedy all pulled the trigger from point blank range. “In fairness to Cork, they maximised all the space that was available. We did try to minimise it as much as we could. The supply of ball was that good coming in and they’re very good at playing the diagonal ball and picking out their players. That probably comes back to the pressure that goes on outside as well.”
The slickness of their hurling throughout the provincial campaign jumped out at Murphy. “I must say that their striking has really been top class. There’s not too many mishitting the ball or miscuing passes. Add to that the speed that they have, the youth and the confidence that’s in the team at the moment. They’re going to take a lot of stopping to be honest with you. That’s a great challenge for us and it’s nice to get another crack at them.”
Eoin Murphy is consoled after the 2006 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Cork in Croke Park….