Paul Murphy after guiding Rathdowney-Errill to the Laois title in 2008
AFTER losing to Clara and then struggling to draw with Kilcormac-Killoughey in the final two rounds of the group stages of the Senior “B” Hurling Championship, a real sense of crisis engulfed Clodiagh Gaels.
Offaly SHC "B" final preview
Pre-season favourites for the championship, they got out of jail when a powerful late rally gave them a draw in that closing game against Kilcormac-Killoughey. A defeat would have put the Killeigh-Killurin outfit out and that would have been an unmitigated disaster for a club with their hearts set on returning to top flight hurling.
It wasn't a crisis anywhere near the level that would have resulted in a change of management. After all Clodiagh Gaels were still in the semi-final and their earlier stuttering form could at least partly be explained by injuries and suspensions for some games. Manager Paul Murphy didn't have to worry about getting a “vote of confidence” from club chairman Mark Sheil or anything like that but there was still a general acknowledgement in the club that their form was not good enough and things had to change.
The Birr man has brought a wealth of experience with him into the Clodiagh Gaels role, both as a player and manager. He didn't need anyone to tell him about the way things were going and he took remedial action, discussing things honestly with his players and freshening things up by drafting in Clare folk hero Ollie Baker for a couple of sessions – a great Clare midfielder in the 1990s, Baker is very well known in Offaly. He has been a garda sergeant and inspector in Tullamore, has managed Offaly senior hurlers and was the Belmont supremo this year.
Murphy admitted that there was a sense of crisis as they struggled to come out of the group.
“There always is as you are with the lads all the year. We just had a chat among the whole lot of us and we said we have to pinpoint where it is going wrong at the moment and what we can do to rectify it. And there was serious focus needed and then we got back. Then we had the lads for two solid weeks and trained for four nights in the first week and even after that you could see the sharpness. Then the following week, which was the match week, we trained hard again on the Monday and Wednesday night and that was it and on the Sunday we just went in and played great hurling.”
He explained the decision to bring in Ollie Baker to help.
“He came in and did a half hour session with the lads. That was after the K/K game. I just wanted to change things up a bit and maybe a new voice is no harm. Clubs do it. In every club I went into I always bring in somebody.”
Securing the services of Paul Murphy represented something of a coup for Clodiagh Gaels. As a player, he was a key figure on the great Birr side of the 1990s. He may not have had the national profile of players such as Brian Whelahan, Johnny Pilkington etc but his importance to those teams should not be understated.
A bustling, very effective ball winning full forward, he could score and did a lot of the donkey work for the more natural finishers all around him. Amazingly, he almost missed out on it all. He had a successful underage career with Birr, winning county titles from U-14 level up, two Feiles, two Community Games and he played minor and U-21 hurling for Offaly, alongside Joe Dooley before opting out of the game for a few years. He played soccer with Highfield United in this spell and loved the game, only going back hurling after getting married in 1985. Now living in Crinkle, he was asked by the local club to play with them and did so for three years before Birr asked him to return in 1990. In 1990, he played junior firstly for Birr, then Intermediate and three weeks later he was on their senior team. At 27 years of age, he got a chance to play for Offaly and the rest was history.
Birr ended a 20 year famine when winning the Senior Hurling Championship in 1991 and they embarked on a sensational run of phenomenal success. Murphy won further Offaly senior hurling medals in 1994, 1997, 1999 and 2000. He won Leinster club titles in 1991, 1994, 1997 and 1999 and All-Ireland club ones in 1995 and 1998 – he was a sub in 1998 as a broken leg ruled him out of action.
He stepped down from playing in 2000 and immediately embarked into the management side of things. He was a selector under Pat Joe Whelahan for four and a half years as Birr's fantastic success story continued into the 2000s – during his term as a selector, they won four Offaly championships in a row, two Leinster and two All-Ireland titles.
Murphy learnt a lot under Whelahan and becoming a manager in his own right was a natural and inevitable progression. His first job was with Rathdowney/Errill, who he led to Laois senior hurling titles in 2006 and 2008 and he became Birr manager in 2010 – unfortunately for Murphy, the great decline was commencing at this time, they were beaten by Tullamore in the quarter-final and Coolderry in the final during his two years at the helm and they haven't won an Offaly title since 2008.
Since then, he has been on the road almost continuously, managing Roscrea, Tommy Larkin's in Galway, two years with Seir Kieran and now Clodiagh Gaels.
When he took on the Clodiagh Gaels job last year, the aim was to get back to senior.
“Speaking to the club and the players that was their ambition. But when you go into a so-called dual club it's difficult as you are up against hurling clubs as well as dual clubs. Tullamore are a dual club as well. It is tough.”
He agreed that there would be a general prefence in Clodiagh Gaels for hurling over football.
“Absolutely. Over the years hurling would be the number one game and probably still is. But then when you win a junior title and go up intermediate you have to take it more seriously as you have to put more commitment into it. There has to be a football manager and selectors as well and that has to get its time too. They got to the semi-final this year.”
It means that it generally works out as week on, week off for hurling even though they still work with the nine players who play hurling only.
“When you go a full week football you are playing your matches at the weekend, both junior and intermediate. You have about 22 players involved, you get them back for hurling training on Tuesday nights and six or seven of them have knocks and injuries and you are conscious of this. You are trying to get them right for the following weekend without damaging them.”
It has been a topsy turvy year for Cloidiagh Gaels hurling as they lost to Tullamore and Clara and only scraped out of the group with a draw against Kilcormac-Killoughey.
“We came off the back of a good league campaign where we won all our matches. We won the league with a number of players out and a number of players with injuries. We got the final against Tullamore which was played in a scorching evening at around 6pm. We got the run on them that night and got four goals which was the real difference.
“They beat us by five points in the championship and could have beaten us by more but that's the way it goes. You just don't know. The league and the championships are two different competitions. As the championships went on we won two more games, we beat Lusmagh and Shinrone. Then we struggled against Clara who beat us and then we drew against K/K. Aaron Flanagan was out for about nine weeks, which people mightn't know, playing with the Offaly u20s. Liam Langton got injured against Tullamore that night in the ligaments and he was out for eight weeks. He is only coming back to form and he's probably still not 100 per cent.”
The Clara defeat came as a bolt from the blue for them.
“That was a tough, physical game. There was a number of players sent off. It happens when you have a stop, start games. That's what happens when you have no fluency in a game. There were a lot of rucks in it. Clara are tough. They are physical but they can hurl and didn't give us any fluency whatsoever. They didn't allow us play and we just got stuck in a rut. They punished us.”
Murhy talked about their draw with Kilcormac-Killoughey.
“ I always say to people not to forget last year when K/K knocked Lusmagh out it. This is K/K's second team with a lot of ex-senior hurlers on it and a lot of young guys on it pushing to make the senior team. K/K are in transition as well at senior level and they are a big club, a big parish and they have a lot of hurlers at whatever level. That was a tough game for us. They were six points up but in the last quarter we showed a bit of character. We could have lost at the very end.”
He was happy bwith their semi-final win over Lusnmagh, agreeing that it was a help that they had beaten them earlier in the group.
“Absolutely there is no point in saying anything different. We had beaten them and beaten them well. The key was the quick start and we had a great start against them. They boys said it is there for us and they went for it. We got 14 points in the first half which was great considering the conditions. And the confidence was there. But after the half time break you think you are going to come out and turn it in again. But it didn't happen. Lusmagh got a roll and they brought it back to two points.Butwe finished strong which is a good sign.”
Is it fair to say it was probably the first time in a few weeks that ye clicked?
“It was the first time we trained together as team for two weeks in a row. You more or less could say that we trained seven nights in two weeks which was very good for us and we could see the improvement, we could see the attitude changing. You're right it was the first game we played as a unit.”
He spoke about Tullamore.
“Tullamore are a great club. They have won in football all the way from underage up to senior and in hurling too. People forget it's not too long that Tullamore won a senior hurling county title against K/K. I was at that game. They are still there. They have a super back room team and they know what they are about. They have excellent hurlers all over the field and are big, strong, physical side as well. We know what we are up against and you know the county final is different than any other game. It doesn't make any different if they us or we beat them last year or the year before. It has no bearing. A county final is a 50 50 game.”
He is aware of the threat that Shane Dooley still poses for Tullamore.
“Absolutely. I've read a lot of articles about games all over the country about JJ Delaney doing it for his club, Tommy Walsh was there at the age of 38. They are older than Shane. Look at what Brian Carroll is doing. Probably the best year of his career. Top man, top scorer, consistent for his club. That is what these guys can do and Shane can turn it on any day. He is a big guy, an experienced guy. Whether it's a placed ball, he can do it. He will be their main leader but they have super guys around there. The two Fox's, Kelly, they have players all over the field and they have experience.”
Clodiagh Gaels have their own star county man in Liam Langton.
“On the day Liam can be match winner but you know we would like to put the focus on the team rather than one or two individuals and I don't think it's fair on players. Some players can handle the pressure. Some players don't like too much being thrown on them. We would like to incorporate Liam and the team together. And say we get the best out of Liam and he gets the best out of us. Liam is a fantastic hurler, absolutely.”
Dwayne Dunne is another star player for Clodiagh Gaels.
“Dwayne is probably a very underestimated player and he is in the twilight of his career. He is in his 30s now and he was in with Offaly when Ollie Baker was there. He is a great free taker as well, a cool head on the field. A lot of young, inexperienced players need players like Liam and Dwayne around them.”
He was asked about the importance of Clodiagh Gaels getting up to senior and how they might fare up there.
In the last few years if you go back to the start of the Senior B which I think is a super competition because for years you would be looking at the senior championships, and not to be disrespectful to any club, but when you are trying to build with young players and you are coming up against clubs like K/K, Coolderry and St Rynagh's and more experienced players and you have a young squad and getting beaten strongly, it's very hard to keep motivation. You get your second beating, your third beating it's no good to anyone. So I think the Senior B is absolutely a super league to have as every team is capable. It's very important for every club to try and get up to senior level but if its doesn't happen it doesn't happen. That is where you want to hurl at top level and Offaly needs as many clubs as possible playing at the top level.
He was asked how Clodiagh Gaels compare to other clubs he has managed.
“The commitment from these guys is great. They play in both codes. They have been used to playing underage with Na Fianna. Theses guys are winners and they want to continue on. They can hurl but the one thing is that you'd wish you had them a bit longer. People ask me how do Loughmore-Castleiney do it in two codes and be in two county finals and I actually rang them one day, Frankie McGrath and asked how do they do it. Frankie said it's very simple, you train for the hurling team and then kick a football around for half an hour. Everybody plays football, it's not as if there's only ten lads. There is no such thing as training separately and it is the same management team.”
It would be hard to bring that into Clodiagh Gaels?
“I've never said anything. If a man wants to kick football that is his privilege. People like me cannot come in and say something. We are only small clubs, small picks and you can't dictate anything. I don't think it would be fair on the players. I have two great selectors there in Brian Lawlor and Eamonn Keenaghan. They are two die hard club men and we work as a team.”
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