LIFE has taken Tom Murphy on many byways and side roads. From the army to the Air Corp to the prison service – from his native Kilcormac to Dublin to Doon in Limerick and now back to his home club of Kilcormac/Killoughey, it has certainly provided many twists and turns.
Manager of the Kilcormac/Killoughey team that is bidding to return to the summit of the Offaly Senior Hurling Championship this Saturday (the 2020 final), Murphy has certainly come back to his roots on the road less travelled.
He left Kilcormac back in 1998 at 20 years of age to join the Army, spending eight years there before going to the Air Corp and he is now a prison officer in Limerick.
As a youngster, he was part of an outstanding bunch of Kilcormac/Killoughey hurlers that won underage medals the whole way up. He was in goals on the K/K team that won the Intermediate Football Championship title in 1998 but after leaving home, he played more rugby (in Tipperary) than football and hurling.
He also won an U-21 hurling championship in 1998, playing with Mark Hand, Tony Spain, Shane Hand, Kevin Rigney, Stephen Byrne and others – he also played with current selector, Seamus Spain. He never played senior with K/K but is one of their unique bunch of players with four minor and four U-21 hurling medals – he has also the underage medals but the only one he didn't win in his own final year was U-16 as they were beaten by Killeigh/Raheen. “There were serious hurlers in K/K at that time. It was the time Kilcormac/Killoughey really came together as a group and started to move on.”
He retains great memories of those years – beating St Rynagh's in an U-14 final in Rath and beating Coolderry in a controversial minor final in 1995: he helped scramble a K/K goal near the finish, it was flagged and taken down as confusion permeated the air before the referee declared K/K had won.
His army career more or less ended his K/K involvement and after moving to Dublin when switching to the Air Corp, he joined St Brigid's GAA Club and played senior hurling with them for a couple of years.
However, after moving to hurling country in Doon, Limerick in 2004, he soon gravitated towards the local GAA Club and the coaching, training and managing side of things. He did play with Doon, lining out in a couple of senior games and he played junior A with them until 2019, playing in goals in a county semi-final – now 43 years of age, he might have played in 2020 but for his K/K commitments and he hasn't ruled out going back to play in the future.
He trained them to a Minor Hurling Championship title in 2007 and served as a senior selector on various occasions before becoming manager in 2018. They got to the Limerick Senior Hurling Championship final for the first time in 18 years that year and won the county league – they also got to an All-Ireland sevens final, losing out to a penalty, while they were beatejn in the championship semi-final last year.
Unsurprisingly, his achievements here brought him to the notice of Kilcormac/Killoughey andnhe was delighted to get a phone call from Paul Craven, asking him to get involved. “It is an honour when your home club comes looking for you and taking over from legends, Danny Owens and Stephen Byrne before him. They are big boots to fill but I am really enjoying it. I am coming home, getting to know people around the parish again, getting to know young lads. I would know some of their parents and it is great.”
It was an opportunity he didn't expect to get but despite the travel commitment from Doon, it didn't take him long to accept – a supportive wife and children made it easy while he avails of the trips up to visit his mother Julie more regularly than might otherwise have been the case. He has a sister living in Kilcormac and remarked: “It is great to reconnect to all of that”. The trip takes an hour to an hour and ten minutes and the enjoyment of the training makes it an easy one.”
Despite being away from home for so many years, he retained a great interest in K/K. Very close friends with Stephen Byrne, he was a proud spectator as they made the breakthrough in 2012, going onto the All-Ireland club final and winning three in a row.
Now he is really enjoying working with those players. “There is plenty of them still around and with plenty to give. You have the likes of Ger Healion still hurling, Ciaran Slevin, Damien Kilmartin. What they have done for this club is unbelievable.”
In 2020, K/K had begun to change the guard, leaving Ger Healion and Ciaran Slevin off for the first round against Birr (both played vital roles when introduced in their come from behind win) and introducing younger players such as Jack Screeney and Lochlann Kavanagh.
How difficult was it to leave Ciaran Slevin and Ger Healion off?
“These boys understand. I think they see the youth coming through. Every fellow will be disappointed if he is not starting and that is only natural. If he wasn't, you would be worried but they know they are playing for a team and they know they have experience and are vital to us. The way they carry themselves, the way you can talk to them boys and the way they portray themselves in front of young lads is brilliant. That is what we want. If our young fellows turn out like those players, we will be delighted. Coming on, it is their experience, it is the way they are able to read the game. Other teams wouldn't like seeing those lads coming on and it gives the team a boost.”
He talked about Ger Healion's communication skills, the way he talks to players, even when the ball might not be falling right for him. “He has a way of talking to lads without being bullish, without being intimidating. He can get lads up for a game, he can tell lads where to go and that helps apart from his size and hurling ability.”
There were a few years when K/K had a very settled fifteen and there were almost no new players getting into the starting lineup. Was it a conscious decision to blood new players?
“It is not something that is conscious, it is something that was there. You look at the young lads coming through. Jack Screeney, Lochlann Kavanagh, Cathal Donoghue, all those lads are exceptional hurlers. My thing is if you are good enough, you are old enough. Lochlann Kavanagh didn't have a great start to his campaign against Birr, he was probably nervous. We took him off after 25 minutes and Ger came on but Lochlann stuck to his task, he got his chance the next day and he took it, scoring 1-3. He scored four points the next day, he got two in the semi-final. These are young fellows, they are maturing. They know what it's like to win and it is to bring them in and make them vocal in the group. They are in with mature lads and it is to make them part of it and get them to speak up for themselves. They are well able to do it and they have developed into fine young hurlers. It wasn't a conscious decision, the boys are there. They have proved they are able to be on it and if you are able to hold onto that jersey, you deserve it. “
He agreed that a team needs new players coming in, keeping others on their toes, raising the tempo at training sessions. He wants competition for places and everyone to know they have to battle for the jersey.
The Covid-19 shutdown was challenging as K/K were flying earlier in the year, hitting the ground running in the Leinster League when it all stopped – they provided strength and conditioning programmes but it wasn't simple with the uncertainty around games and trying to do the right thing. He kept in contact with players, making sure they were all right more than trying to keep them doing stuff.
Murphy is under no illusions about what St Rynagh's will bring to the table in the final and the fact that they can match K/K in the physical stakes. “I watched St Rynagh's in their semi-final and they are an exceptional team, they have an exceptional manager and they know how to win. They will come at it and they have experienced players as well. They have topped their group and we have topped ours. I don't think there will be too much between the two teams. Whichever team shows up on the day and knuckles down and works really hard will win it. I think the better team will win on the day.”
K/K ended up hanging on a bit in the semi-final against Belmont. He agreed that they should have won more comfortably but pointed out that they had a man sent off (Cillian Kiely) and that Belmont were always going to have a purple patch in the game. He was happy with the way K/K responded when Belmont came at them, pointing out that their backs have an ability to read the game and work it out.
Cillian Kiely went for two yellow cards and Murphy is adamant that the first was harsh on this occasion.
“The second one you could say was a yellow card but definitely the first one, I thought was no way a yellow card. Cillian gave a shoulder the first day against Birr, Kieran Pat Kelly waved it on.I thought it was a good rattling, hard tackle and you just play on but that is the difference between referees. I watched that two or three times and I think the only difference was that Cillian is a slightly bigger man than the corner back. The corner back was standing up straight, it wasn't into the back or chest, it was shoulder to shoulder. I thought it was a bit harsh. Unfortunately he got a second yellow card and had to go then but the other lads stood up to the plate.”
He acknowledged that Kiely could have got a yellow early in the second half when pushing a Belmont player but pointed out that it was a spur of the moment reaction after being pushed into the boundary wall “He got a butt of a hurley pushed up into his ribs as well. These things happen in the heat of battle. You take the good with the bad.”
When it was suggested that Kiely is a marked man, both from referees and opponents who might try and rise him, he said: “Cillian Kiely's discipline this year has been exceptional. His free taking has been exceptional. His work rate at midfield for us is unebleievable. A couple of hits he put in against Birr is what turned the game for us. He is a leader on our field. He is a brilliant fellow off the field. You can talk to Cillian about anything. I spoke to Cillian last year about another thing, brilliant, a very approachable young fellow. I don't know if he is a targeted man. Maybe he is a targeted man because he is a very exceptional hurler. When he turns it on, he turns it on. I remember he scoring a point for K/K against Shemaliers and if D.J. Carey did it, people would be talking about it for years. He has been very disciplined this year and I wouldn't change Cillian Kiely for anything. That is who he is and I knew that coming into this. Why would I want to try and change one of the best hurlers in Offaly?”
He is happy to play the final in Tullamore, though he always enjoyed going to finals in Birr.
He agreed that it is a 50/50 final. “Banagher are a big strong team. Ben Conneely is an exceptional hurler. He is the best backsman in Offaly. They have a couple of young fellows up front well able to play. Sean Dolan is an exceptional hurler. On the other side we have exceptional hurlers. Pound for pound we are probably much the same. They probably struggled through one or two games and just finished them out in the end but when it came down to it, they pulled away. It is 50/50, men on men. May the best team win it.”
K/K were beaten in the intermediate football final last year and he had no issue with the lads playing football. “I played football myself and it is brilliant. If anything, I think it aids hurling a small bit. Lads get used to the heavier tackles. Our lads have done very well in the football. They are interested in football, want to play football and I would never draw a line in the sand and say choose one or the other. It keeps lads fit, moving and it hardens them up a small bit.”
Murphy has really enjoyed the format last year with county lads fully available to their clubs. “It is brilliant to see Conor Mahon, the two Geraghty's, Cillian Kiely available the whole year. It also is a mindset that they know what the other players are putting in and they can see the type of training they are doing. It brings a bit of unity and craic around the place.”
He is confident of success, saying: “I know the mindset of our players. We have matured and we have young players coming in. We are trying to get the balance right between older and younger lads. They want to win. Banagher want to win as well and it is lending to a brilliant final. I am really looking forward to it, it is the top two teams in Offaly and that is what you want. There was no flukes or anything like that. We went about our business and Banagher went about their business. We got the deal done and whoever comes out on top will win it. You hope lads will show up on the day and that is the main thing.”
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