THERE’S A PERCEPTION out there that the presence of Kilkenny and Tipperary in today’s All-Ireland hurling final means we’re in for a throwback game between two sides who don’t delve too much into tactics.
While both Brian Cody and Liam Sheedy still hold traditional values, they’ve certainly moved along with the times.
For instance, take the two men who’ll stand between the posts this afternoon – Eoin Murphy and Brian Hogan. Murphy, 29, is a two-time All-Star and four-time All-Ireland winner. He’s vastly more experienced than his 23-year-old counterpart, yet both goalkeepers share an important trait.
Between colleges and club hurling, they’ve both spent a good deal of time playing as outfield players.
Hurling has followed football in becoming far more possession-based. The repertoire of top-level goalkeepers must include an ability to find a man with pinpoint accuracy from short restarts, while they need to be skilfull enough to receive the ball back from under-pressure defenders and start attacks from deep.
A quality first touch and confidence under a high ball are essential. A booming puck-out and a long-range free-taking ability have increasingly become basic requirements for elite netminders.
“It’s offering another dynamic to your team,” says Jackie Tyrrell.
“These keepers are hitting the ball further than anyone. You see what Enda Rowland did in his club game as well so the influence of the goalies is getting huge.
“Not just from a puck-out point of view but from their general distribution, where they can put the puck-outs, being able to get the ball back off the full-back line and switching the play, and they’re so accurate – everything is to hand.
“It’s an area of the field I feel teams will go after more and more, as in to get more out of their keeper and bringing the keeper maybe further out the field and being able to put the ball over the bar from 100 yards.”
Murphy and Hogan tick all the boxes. They honed the required skillset thanks to versatility that saw them employed in various positions around the field over the years.
Brian Hogan’s booming puck-outs have become a feature of the Tipperary attack this season.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Hogan, son of legendary Premier netminder Ken, played minor, U21 and intermediate for Tipperary in goals but he regularly plays his hurling around the middle third for his club Lorrha Dorrha.
When they lifted the North Tipperary U21 B title in 2017, Hogan chipped in with 1-3 from centre-forward. When their seniors began their championship campaign against Thurles Sarsfields back in April, Hogan scored 0-7 from his number 11 role, including six frees.
In 2018, he was centre-back and captain on the Maynooth University team that lifted the Ryan Cup, scoring two points from placed balls in their final win over Ulster University.
In his second campaign as a starter for Tipp, Hogan has assisted 0-4 from his booming deliveries, including three puck-outs and a free from distance. He’s happy to go short too. Tipp badly needed a score when they trailed Wexford by four points shortly before half-time in the semi-final.
Hogan expertly picked out centre-back Barry Heffernan’s run into a vacated corner-back position and it resulted in Noel McGrath firing over from distance. In the final play of the half, he went short to McGrath who found Jason Forde for another score.
Those two scores are a microcosm of Hogan’s importance to the team and prevented Davy Fitzgerald’s side from taking a more sizeable lead into the break.
Murphy has even more pedigree as an outfielder. He’s played virtually all his club hurling with Glenmore in the forward line, scoring a point in their All-Ireland junior club final victory in 2016 at Croke Park.
He was a rock at centre-back for Waterford IT when they lifted the Fitzgibbon Cup in 2014, scoring a long-range point in the final. He started that campaign in the attack before manager Colm Bonnar switched him to defence where he formed a formidable half-back line, flanked by Tipperary men Tomas Hamill and Joe O’Dwyer.
Bonnar, now in charge of Carlow, recently insisted that Murphy would have made it as a forward with the Cats had he not come through in an era where they had an embarrassment of attacking options.
Murphy kept goal for Kilkenny minors for their All-Ireland success in 2008 and U21s in 2009 where they reached the final.
He was called up to the Cats panel as third-choice goalkeeper in 2011. A week out from the All-Ireland final, Murphy lined out at corner-forward to make up the numbers in a training game and scored 3-3.
Regular starter PJ Ryan retired that winter. Murphy moved up the pecking order but after training as a keeper all winter, he surprisingly handed an opportunity at corner-forward for a league meeting with Cork at Pairc Ui Chaoimh in March 2012.
Murphy (number 13) stands for the national anthem ahead of the league clash against Cork in 2012.
Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
Things didn’t go to plan and he was withdrawn in the 43rd minute. His days in the Kilkenny attack were over.
“Probably, physically, I wouldn’t have been in as good a shape as I am now,” Murphy told The42 ahead of the 2018 championship.
“I was corner-forward and Brian Murphy roasted me down in Cork. I got two pucks the same day, I played a pass to Michael Rice for a point in the second half but I got one (other) puck in the second half and he blocked me down. That’s all I had, I remember it vividly.
“Brian was brilliant, I’ve never seen anyone like it. He was able to read my body movement – if I was turning left or right – there was no sort of half throwing him off or getting that half a yard.
“He was the best corner-back in the country along with the likes of Jackie Tyrrell for ten years. They were playing a level different to everyone else at that time.
“Look, things didn’t go well for me, I would have loved to get another shot but that’s the way it goes.”
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He eventually assumed the number one role near the end of the 2014 season and hasn’t looked back since. Murphy’s cat-like reflexes and quality of distribution has placed him in the greatest of all-time conversation just five years later.
A clean striker of the ball, he’s scored two points from long-range frees so far in this year’s championship. Murphy didn’t get himself on the scoresheet with Kilkenny until the 2017 league, but he’s now racked up 0-25 in his 74 competitive appearances for the Cats.
Arguably his greatest ever performance came in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Limerick where Murphy pulled off a string of acrobatic saves to single-handily keep his team in the game.
Kilkenny exited the championship that afternoon, yet Murphy still collected an All-Star in November over Limerick stopper Nickie Quaid, who made worldwide headlines for his stunning flick that denied Seamus Harnedy a certain goal in the semi-final.
Murphy saved two penalties in the drawn 2014 All-Ireland final.
Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
Another one for Murphy’s highlight reel arrived in the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final replay win over Waterford when he caught Pauric Mahony’s late free over the crossbar to deny the Deise a place in the final.
At 5’11″, Murphy possesses an incredible spring which allows him to pluck down sure-fire points from the air.
Hogan, standing tall at 6’6″, has also made a habit of fetching balls as they drop over the bar.
In the semi-final, caught a Lee Chin free that had just about snuck over, which resulted in Hawk-Eye eventually calling play back and awarding a point after John McGrath had put the ball in the net at the far end.
Playing outfield evidently gave Hogan and Murphy greater confidence under the dropping ball. The puck-out battle between the two will be intriguing and a key factor in deciding the outcome of the final.
In the semi-finals, Tipperary retained 55% of Hogan’s puck-outs (16 of 30) with the majority of them going long. Kilkenny fared better, winning 63% of Murphy’s (21 of 34).
Yet as Tyrrell points out, Hogan went long the vast majority of the time against Wexford.
“What was very interesting in the Tipperary game against Wexford, in a game where they had an extra man back they only went short four times,” he says.
“You would have thought that against Wexford Padraic Maher would be free and they’d have a corner-back free but they only went short four times. They do like to go long.
“Sometimes I feel that Brian Hogan might go too long in the sense he almost bypasses some of the key lads because he has a huge puck-out,” adds Tyrrell, a Littlewoods Ireland ambassador. “For Colin Fennelly’s goal, Eoin Murphy lands the puck-out on the 21, he catches it and goal.
“That will be another dynamic because I feel if Tipperary are struggling going long I don’t know how comfortable they are going short.”
Murphy ahead of the semi-final against Limerick.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Derek McGrath agrees with that assessment.
“Tipp are more inclined not to go short but to work something to a midfielder to work off the breaks,” the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Star Awards panel member says.
“The puck-out will be fascinating really and what’ll be interesting is how it will change as it goes on.”
The former Waterford boss believes Murphy holds the aces, with plenty of good options on the half-forward line and the ability to work it short.
“It’ll be interesting there because Eoin Murphy’s targets are probably that bit more manageable in terms of that aerial ability. TJ (Reid) is brilliant in the air.
“If you watch the Limerick game he spent a lot of the time out in the right-half forward position, then he went centre-forward and then he went full-forward and Eoin Murphy went very long down on TJ’s head. He also has the option of going to Walter, John Donnelly has a serious hand as well.
“If you match it up, you could end up with Padraic Maher on Walter Walsh, and TJ Reid on Brendan Maher, and Ronan Maher on the other side so you’ve three guys that are good in the air as well.
“That’s where the Eoin Murphy thing will count for something. I expect Tipp to withdraw into midfield and Kilkenny to do likewise.
“I remember this year after the Dublin game against Kilkenny, at half-time Dublin had them in a bit of trouble in Nowlan Park. I remember watching TJ Reid being interviewed afterwards and he said something like, ‘We wanted to go short and the puck-out policy was changed.’
“I think Darren Brennan was in goal the same night. And they changed the puck-out policy at half-time to go short and keep possession because Dublin were withdrawing down the pitch.
“I’ll be interested to see Murphy’s approach on that. If Tipp come out and stand-off that 15 or 20 yards, will he then use Paul Murphy, will he use Joey Holden?”
Peter Casey fires Limerick’s opening goal past Hogan in the Munster final.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
In that same interview last year, Murphy broke down his approach from restarts in simple terms.
“You have to play it as you see it – hurling is so fast,” he said.
“If a guy is coming short, fair enough I’ll give it to him short. If I’m under pressure, the ball has to go long.”
Hogan, meanwhile, will have undoubtedly worked closely with coaches Tommy Dunne, Darragh Egan and Eamon O’Shea to devise puck-out strategies for his first All-Ireland final.
When his father Ken led the Premier to the Liam MacCarthy Cup decider 30 years ago, the requirement was simply to send the ball as far away from his goals as possible.
The game has moved on significantly in the three decades since, as Murphy and Hogan will showcase in their respective quarterback roles this afternoon.
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