"I kind of decided on Hill 16, 'you're either going to do this or you're not going to do this.'"
Paul Murphy was first called into the Kilkenny panel in 2008 and the recently retired four-time All-Star remembers that first training session like it was only yesterday.
In the hallowed fields of St Kieran's College was where he pucked his first ball as a Kilkenny hurler and the memories from that first night in roll off the tongue for the Danesfort man. In the dressing rooms, he 'sheepishly' sat down down beside the door but he was soon welcomed into the team of legends by Michael Rice, Michael Kavanagh and Eddie Brennan amongst others.
Brian Hogan was the man he pucked across the field with and 12 years on, looking back still brings a smile to the face. Just last week, Murphy called it a day after a 'disappointing' year in the black and amber but his only memories from a decorated career are good ones and his only wishes are for Kilkenny and the players who hurled him off the team this year, to have it good in the future. Bitterness and entitlement are not strong traits here.
Inside forwards knew they were in for a tough day whenever they ventured into Paul Murphy's corner 👊
Tough, strong and as sharp as a tack, the @DanesfortCLG defender was a master of his trade 2⃣ pic.twitter.com/QDRcH9wuOZ
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) January 15, 2021
Going back to the early days, you could hardly blame Murphy for being overawed in the midst of hurling royalty but he reflects on getting dropped from the panel in 2009 as a defining moment that helped to make him as a hurler.
"When I was 19 or 20, I was kind of thinking sure you can't break into this team. You've Michael Kavanagh, Jackie, Noel Hickey and all these lads there," he says in a thoroughly engaging interview with Colm Parkinson on The GAA Hour.
"As a 19-year-old and 20, I probably didn't give myself the chance thinking 'who am I to step in and take these lads' positions?' I was given the opportunity and I just didn't perform and I was dropped off the panel. I would have always felt it was a good thing that I was dropped. If it's a reflection of your performance that you're not up to the standard, I'd rather be told 'this is the situation and you're not hurling.' Because if I had went on and won an All-Ireland in maybe 2009 as part of the panel, I might have got a false idea of where I was."
Call it man-management, call it tough love, but in setting him back a step, Brian Cody had created a warrior.
"Instead, I just went away and thought 'I have to up it now.' Like, in 2010, I was on the Hill with a few of my friends and they texted me the other day to laugh about it, that in 2010, we were up on the Hill having a few pints watching Kilkenny get bet. And then in 2011, I was on the pitch. I kind of decided on Hill 16, 'look you're either going to do this or you're not going to do this. Go out train as hard as you can - these lads are going to be off now between now and Christmas. Go off, do a bit and come back in January and surprise the management and let them say 'this lad's after doing a huge amount.' That was just the extra bit that got me in the zone."
From there, Murphy became a mainstay on the Kilkenny team as he blossomed into the stand-out corner back in the country. A career in the army stood him in good stead as his physicality and mental toughness was never found wanting on the hurling pitch.
"My experience in the defence forces has been absolutely unrivalled. It's been a privilege to be in the army for 13 years now. I knew very early on that this was what I wanted to do. I enjoyed the adventures overseas, the reward of tough sessions. It was always just something that appealed to me," he adds.
For now, Murphy treasures all the bonds and friendships created between teammates and rivals.
"It strikes differently when a rival player sends you a message. The likes of Joe Canning, Seamus Callanan, Lee Chin and Paudie Maher and all of these lads have got in contact. It's great, you'd always have a lot of respect for these lads and as much as your own teammate sending a message has its own poignancy, when a rival does it, it has its own special way of getting to you.
"It shows the type of fellas they are that they went to the effort of getting in contact when you stepped aside."
- Paul Murphy reflects on a fantastic career ⚫️🟡
- A tribute to the 'battling and relentless' Michael Darragh MacAuley 🔵
- Leinster Council CEO Michael Reynolds on the 2021 season and Dublin dominance 👇
Listen in 🎧https://t.co/lYjF4M4yPv pic.twitter.com/au0xorVK55
— The GAA Hour (@TheGAAHour) January 21, 2021
"I think it's every player's dream to finish on a high, ideally winning an All-Ireland and playing well for your last year," he says of his decision to walk away, "But I think being a realist, that's not the way it always works out. This year, I came back from overseas and I was very disappointed, had a poor championship with my club.
"Young lads like Conor Delaney, Ciaran Wallace, Tommy Walsh were flying it with their clubs and I'd always be a realist, you always have your feet on the ground and realise you don't get the jersey just out of having a name for yourself. It's on performances and I expected going back in, that I wouldn't be starting challenge matches and that. As the year drifted on and I got my form back, I felt I was in contention. So look, you're definitely disappointed not to have played the games but you realise it's cut-throat and the best lads do have to play. Those lads were coming through and this is the start of their career so when they get the jersey, you want these lads to go out and hurl well and do their best for Kilkenny..."
"By no means am I going to sit on the couch and get unfit. I'm looking forward to getting back with my club and giving a good, full year uninterrupted to my club..."
You can't keep a good one down.