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Eoin Murphy cautiously optimistic ahead of championship 2021

Eanna O’Reilly

Like all past players and hurling supporters, former Waterford defender Eoin Murphy is looking forward to the start of the Munster championship on Sunday, as his native county take on Clare in Semple Stadium. Both Waterford and Clare begin this season trying to bridge a long gap to their last Munster championship victories. For the Déise, 2010 was their last title, when Murphy was playing himself at corner back. For Clare, the wait goes back even further to 1998, when they defeated Sunday’s opponents after a replay.

Those who remember the great Waterford team of the 2000s, with their stars such as Ken McGrath, Tony Browne, Dan Shanahan, John Mullane and Paul Flynn, will also recall Eoin Murphy as a classy corner back and one of the best man markers of his time. A winner of four Munster championships, a National League and an All Star in 2006, he knows what it takes to achieve success at the highest level.

In terms of stand out memories, the Munster titles of 2002 and 2004 were special days for the Waterford defender. ‘‘2002 was my first year to start on the team, and we won our first Munster title in 39 years. We were given little chance outside the county against Tipp that day. But we turned them over and I’ll never forget the celebrations afterwards. Going across the county border and into West Waterford with the cup was a really special experience.’’

Murphy identifies the 2004 Munster title win in Thurles as a great memory, which hurling followers throughout the country were enthralled by. ‘‘Where I grew up in West Waterford, we had a huge rivalry with Cork. That game was incredible, it went one way and then another, the pace was something else. We just never stopped fighting that day, especially after going down to fourteen men. I remember clearly, Declan Prendergast getting a vital flick to intercept a goal chance for Cork. We managed to clear the ball to Séamus Prendergast, who drove over a point, against the wind from 100 yards. It was amazing, it was just a great day for us and a great day for hurling in general.’’

Those were great days for Waterford, when their supporters went into the championship each year with expectations of success and enjoyment, watching their brilliant team showcase their skills. Murphy is confident that the current team can bring that excitement back to the county and after reaching the All-Ireland Final last year, they have a strong foundation to build on.

‘‘Liam Cahill has been excellent with this group of players. It’s taken a while to adapt into the game plan that Liam wants to play, but you can see the lads are getting better and better. Liam is allowing individual talent to flourish, while also emphasizing huge work rate for the lads. We have some really talented players and hopefully, in the next few years, we will see them reaching their potential. Hopefully, this will be a good year in the championship, and they will come on further.’’

On Sunday, he will travel to Thurles as an analyst for WLR, to see his native county take on the Banner in the opening championship game of the year. Murphy is cautiously optimistic ahead of the game but is also wary of possible injuries to players down the spine of the team.

‘‘Conor Prunty would be a huge loss at full back. It’s a position that Waterford have found hard to tie down in recent years and Prunty has been excellent. He’s a really reliable player to have at full back and without him, I think we could be vulnerable. Jamie Barron as well, would be a huge loss. He’s a massive player in midfield for us and considering Tadhg (de Búrca) is still out, that’s a big part of the spine of the team to potentially be out. So, we’re hoping for the best with that. Clare have a big threat in attack, with the likes of Aron Shanagher as a target man, and Tony Kelly of course. How Waterford deal with Kelly will be vital on Sunday.’’

A key factor for Waterford typically revolves around the positioning of Austin Gleeson. The Mount Sion player featured in the number six jersey during the league, with mixed success. Murphy has his own views as to where Gleeson could be most effective. ‘‘I’d love to see Austin in the half back line, but particularly on the wing. I think he could be brilliant there; he would have the chance to go forward and he’s such a natural scorer. He can dominate in the air, he’s a great athlete and playing on the wing would give him the chance to go forward.’’

With the talent in their ranks, Murphy believes that his county have enough to get the job done but expects a huge test from Clare on Sunday.

‘‘If Waterford can limit Clare in attack, I’d be very happy. Hopefully, we can do that, and I think we have the forwards to do the business at the other end. The Bennett’s (Stephen, Shane and Kieran) and Dessie Hutchinson in particular have been in great form. Jack Fagan brings something different then, he has the size and physicality. One lad I’m really excited about is Calum Lyons, he’s a young lad with a huge future. I love watching him, he is fearless and always plays his own game. He might be marking Tony Kelly on Sunday; we’ll just have to wait and see. But overall, I think if Waterford can do okay at the back, I think we will shade it by a point or two on Sunday’’.

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