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kingdom con ‘More cons than pros’ to Kerry system of picking captains, admits skipper Murphy

Rathmore star says Kingdom have “savage hunger and desire” to atone for last year

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Paul Murphy: ‘Savage hunger and desire’ in Kerry squad this year. Photo: Sportsfile

Paul Murphy: ‘Savage hunger and desire’ in Kerry squad this year. Photo: Sportsfile

Paul Murphy: ‘Savage hunger and desire’ in Kerry squad this year. Photo: Sportsfile

Paul Murphy admits there are “more cons than pros” to the system that bequeathed him the Kerry captaincy in 2021.


Not that anyone would question Murphy’s credentials. He’s 29, an ever-present, a former All-Ireland winner and All Star, a proven big-game performer. In any other county, he’d be an obvious leadership contender in any event.

But in Kerry – along with the other standout exception of the Kilkenny hurlers – the captain is chosen not by the manager but by the county champions.

Last season the East Kerry divisional board handed this honour to the nation’s most gifted prodigy, David Clifford. Now, as back-to-back Kerry kingpins, they have passed the baton to Murphy.

He’s “very appreciative” of this “fantastic honour” … but, if he had his way, he’d prefer if that choice belonged to Peter Keane.

“It has worked in the past where you’d say the obvious choice for captain has been a member of the county championship-winning team the previous year,” he acknowledges.

"In my lifetime I’m looking at the year 2000, I was only a young lad, but Séamus Moynihan appeared to me to be the leader of that group of players and it was a perfect fit for him to be nominated by East Kerry.

“That does happen, the chances are that Páidí Ó Sé would have picked Séamus Moynihan to be captain in 2000 anyway.

"The flip side of the system is you have a situation where a younger lad might be making his debut and, by virtue of being a member of the previous year’s county championship-winning team, he’s thrust into the role of being captain in his very first game with Kerry.

“If I look back to my first game with Kerry at senior level, you’ve enough to be worrying about as a debutant starting out. You just want to fit in, do your job for the team without things like going up for the toss and saying a few words in the dressing-room beforehand if you felt it was necessary.

“I just think it puts an awful lot of pressure onto a young fella in that situation. I think we possibly would be better served by allowing the management team or maybe the management team with the players to choose their own captain, as is done in a lot of other teams in nearly every other sport.”

Not to mention his own sport. Rivals have already shown Kerry the way: Michael Murphy has been Donegal skipper for a decade; Stephen Cluxton has been Dublin captain for the last eight years, seven of those All-Ireland winning.

It should be stressed, Murphy doesn’t buy the theory of captaincy weighing heavily on the shoulders of Clifford, his fellow East Kerry man. “David is a very level-headed fella. Nothing seems to faze him at all, and he did a really good job as captain,” the Rathmore man says.

The same could not be said for the team itself when it mattered most. What made that galling loss to Cork all the tougher to take were the unique circumstances: no second chance because of the pandemic, no time to recover from Mark Keane’s last-second goal, no looming club campaign to salve the open wound.

Murphy reflects how, in a normal year, a team can meet as a group after exiting the championship, “maybe have a few pints the following day and there is a coping mechanism there. There are guys around who you can talk to about it, then maybe head away for a few days and get a bit of sun on the bones.

"And by the time a week or 10 days have passed, the club is really on the horizon and it is the most important time of the year for the club, so you can stick your teeth into that. There is a distraction there and you can put inter-county disappointment behind you.

“But the way it fell in 2020, there was nothing to take your mind off it. I drove home alone, I came back and I was supposed to be in work the following day but I texted the boss the following morning and said, ‘I just can’t face this.’

" I sat down on the couch with the dog, downloaded Amazon Prime and by the time I was ready to go back to work I had 16 episodes of the ‘US Office’ watched and that was my only coping mechanism.”

Whenever Covid allows, Kerry will return to the field, hell-bent on atonement.

“There’s always pressure as part of the Kerry team,” Murphy points out, “but I think we’re going to put huge pressure on ourselves. There’s a serious hurt there and a savage hunger and desire, energy, to really have a good go at this year and get back to where we want to be.

"We have really good people involved, both on the playing field and off it, so we’re very happy with what we have and we think we’re in a good position to go back to the top this year or to challenge again.”

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