The big interview: Cork boss Paudie Murray is at the cutting edge of camogie management

The big interview: Cork boss Paudie Murray is at the cutting edge of camogie management
Cork manager Paudie Murray talks in the team huddle to the intermediates. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

ON the weekend of the All-Ireland semi-finals, Paudie Murray left his house at 10.30am on Saturday.

Between the trip to Limerick for the seniors’ victory over Galway, the match itself, and food after, following a delay as two players were drug tested, it was 2.30am when he arrived back in the door. It was around 4am when he nodded off.

He got more of a power nap than a night’s sleep because he was up at 6.30am for a bus journey to Ashbourne, an intermediate clash with Derry – and the all the accompanying drama – returning home for around 9pm.

Of course because Cork were victorious in both semis, setting up Sunday’s All-Ireland double-header at Croke Park – the intermediates against Meath, the seniors versus Kilkenny – there’s been no let-up since. Murray manages both teams, with little crossover between the panels, so it’s been a relentless build-up, which included a change of hotel and all the logistics that go with that, plus the distraction of a knee injury which looks set to keep powerhouse Gemma O’Connor out.

Last September Cork reached both finals as well, but after losing to Kilkenny twice, it’s hard to imagine how it was worth it all.

Murray, self-employed and the father to two girls, laughs when we suggest he must be mad to juggle work, family and two inter-county teams.

“How many times does a manager get to have two teams in an All-Ireland at Croke Park? I’ve gone to seven All-Irelands and you can’t have it every way. There are plenty would love to be in my position.

“The day will be wrecking but we’ll tweak things slightly from last year. Maybe I was a small bit flat last year because in the week leading up to it there was a lot of energy expended on other things.

“I think we can get it right for both teams but obviously Gemma is the big one and I’d love to be going to take on Kilkenny with a full deck of cards.”

At this juncture, O’Connor’s injury notwithstanding, planning for Croker is where it’s at. Still last winter, five years in and with a couple of All-Irelands to his name, Murray must have been tempted to walk away?

“I’d my mind made up last year that was it. The All-Ireland didn’t go the way I wanted it but I’m a competitive guy.

“I’d my mind made up pretty soon after and even though I’d options inside and outside the county I wanted to have a crack again.”

Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer
Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer

Getting another crack off Kilkenny, who also beat the Rebels earlier this year in the league final, must have been an incentive. There’s a real tension to the rivalry between the counties, after an incident during the handshakes before last year’s final, accusations from Noreside that Cork were disrespectful during the speeches at Croker last year, and the Leesiders’ assertion Kilkenny are a physical, defensive outfit.

Murray insists that’s not the case. He simply loves being immersed in the Rebel cause. He might unwind by watching his daughter at gymnastics, having a laugh with other GAA fathers, the Glen’s Seanie McGrath and the Rockies’ Aidan Ryan. Yet the next camogie session or game is never too far away.

The intermediates and seniors train the same night, one after the other, with Sean Cremin handling a chunk of the work with the first group. Liam O’Reilly, known for his work with Olympian Rob Heffernan, was involved in the strength and conditioning earlier in the campaign, with Martin O’Brien, a county football medalist with Clon, also on board.

He has a strong but focused backroom, including his brothers, with Kevin well-known as a match-winner for the Cork hurlers in 1999. Their sister Aoife is the All-Star goalie.

Everyone plays their part and Murray certainly doesn’t entertain hangers-on.

“I believe in management and specific roles. I don’t believe in selectors per say.

“You need your goalkeeping coach, video stats and fellas on the pitch match day that have roles to fulfil, but that’s the way we’d work it.”

While there has long been a disparity between the funding of male and female sport, this Cork camogie set-up is cutting edge. They have a modern approach to preparation. And tactics, given they often sit deep and counter from the middle.

“We do a lot of stats-based feedback. At the start no one liked it because it’s telling them something they don’t want to hear. Stats don’t lie.

“We’ve GPS this year with both teams and no sooner has the game finished and players are screeching at us for their results.

“Balance is key because you don’t want to get bogged down in it. Six years ago it was ‘give a rattling speech and off you go’.”

During Murray’s tenure, Cork have brought in video analysis and strength and conditioning. Some players can cover up to 10km in a 60-minute game.

“If you don’t have legs now at inter-county, not to mind in Croke Park, then forget it. It’s a very unforgiving place.

“The fitness results we have are as good as any men’s team and for the best counties the pace is incredible. That’s the difference with the top teams.

“Kilkenny have Paddy Mulally, former senior hurler, on their set-up. The level of themselves, Galway and Dublin, who have David Herity the ex-Kilkenny goal on board, is quality.”

Some would suggest camogie was better in a more traditional style, but Murray insists the standard and pace has risen. He’d like to see changes to improve the game further, including a proper link-up with ladies football, after the debacle of a semi-final fixture clash for dual player Libby Coppinger.

“A player, coming from Kealkil, is already doing 100 miles five days a week, and the decisions up in Dublin don’t even consider it. There are serious problems between the associations because there is no joined up thinking.

“They need to be under the GAA umbrella.”

He also finds the standard of refereeing hugely frustrating.

“We played Down in an intermediate match and there was 51 frees. The free count was even but it was ridiculous. You pay €10 for that and it’ll put you to sleep.

“Then you can have the complete opposite, like last year’s All-Ireland final, which was just hurling rules really.

“We normally get referees in to tell us what you can and can’t do but during games then that goes out the window.

“In the league final of 33 minutes of camogie there was seven frees. Clearly he wanted to leave it flow. Let’s change the rules and have it flowing then.

“The rules need to be broken down and rewritten again. Female athletes deserve it.”

That clearly is a motivating factor.

He loves sport but values player development. He started out as a footballer with Doheneys but only took up hurling for Cloughduv in his teens when he went to Farranferris.

He argues for an emphasis to be put on developing coaches as well as players, to improve Cork's poor record at U16 and U18 level across the last decade, with the last All-Ireland secured back in 2003.

That could be his role in the future, but first up is another one of those crazy weekends. Only this time on the greatest stage of them all.

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