THERE’S NO SHORTAGE of people who were happy to see the back of 2016, and for Paul Murphy, Kilkenny’s All-Ireland final defeat meant that the last 12 months were “a waste of a year.”
Murphy stepped out into Croke Park last September hoping to make it a perfect five wins from five on hurling’s biggest day.
But instead of the familiar walk up the Hogan Stand steps, the Danesfort All-Star and his defensive colleagues were given the runaround by a lethal Tipperary attack.
Tipp’s full-forwards exploited the wide open spaces that they were afforded and finished with a massive 2-21 of the 2-29 total that day, 2-15 of their haul coming from play.
Kilkenny’s full-back line — Murphy, Joey Holden and Shane Prendergast — were scrutinised for their failure to cope, but the Cats star said that no pundit’s criticism affected him quite like his own analysis of that nightmare afternoon.
“The glaring thing was 2-21 and of course we have analysed it ourselves,” he explains.
“I suppose if I was 19 or 20 and I was in that position, I may have taken it a lot harder from the point of view of people outside talking.
“I took it hard on myself, my own performance and the full-back line as a unit, but in terms of the outside talk, people are entitled to talk and do analysis on it and have their opinions, and you have to respect that.
“I didn’t take it on board myself. I didn’t take it hard, that this person talking is right or that person. I just didn’t pay any attention to it.
“I broke it down myself. We talked about it ourselves. That’s what I take on board from it.
“Look, I was in the best position that year to see what happened. I don’t need anyone else to tell me what happened that day.”
A few days short of his 28th birthday, Murphy already has four All-Stars and six All-Irelands to his name — one apiece at U21 level and in the junior club championship along with his four Celtic Crosses.
The defeat to Tipp was the first time that he has gone back to a losing All-Ireland dressing room and the contrast in emotions could not have been more stark.
“When you sample both dressing rooms, it gives you a great picture of the greater scheme of things,” he says.
The winning one is obviously great, you want to get back into it, but the losing feeling, I don’t think, compares to the winning one for spurring you on.
“The losing one, there’s a serious fire there. You don’t want to be in the losing dressing room, that’s the thing, and that’s nearly more scary than trying to get into the winning one. You want to be in the winning one but the fear of being in the losing one is nearly worse than being in the winning one.
“Certainly it is motivation,” he continues. “It’s a new angle. It’s my seventh All-Ireland but the first time I sampled it.
“It is somewhere you don’t want to be going back into and it is great, you do enjoy going back now because you’re feeling you’re getting the wheels in motion to try and get things right as you would feel it, get back and make a mark in both the league and the Championship.
“You have to learn from these things and bring them on with you. There’s no point in experiencing a feeling like that and just leaving it there. You might as well bring it with you and it could be the difference between winning and losing a match somewhere along the year.”
It’s a basic tenet of Kilkenny’s winning culture under Brian Cody that first is first and second is nowhere.
But it is the words of one of Cody’s selectors, James McGarry, that have stuck with Murphy.
A year without an All-Ireland is a year wasted.
“It’s such a strange feeling when it happens and it’s such an anti-climax really. There’s nothing for second place, there’s nothing for the loser. It’s such an anti-climax and it’s such a waste of a year really, is what it is.
“It is hard to get your head around and as you go on over the winter, it just comes back to you every so often. You’re at different events and you’re reminded of it yourself just working day-to-day. It does stick with you and, like I said, it sticks with you more than the winning ones. It would affect you more than winning one.
I suppose James McGarry was the person who said it a few years ago. It was drilled into us for the last while – it is, in our minds, a waste of a year. I don’t know what way other teams picture it, everybody to their own. That’s the way we picture it, it is a waste of a year.
“When you’re putting yourself in contention for these things, it’s just the way you have to see it because you want to be winning them and when you’re training like we’re training the last 10 days now, up until September, to lose the one match that you want to win, that’s effectively a waste of a year because that’s what you’re training for – to win the All-Ireland.
“You’re not training to win the Walsh Cup or these things. You want to win them and you want to build towards it, but the All-Ireland is what you want to win.”