AFTER four years in charge, Bryan Murphy had no intention of coming back to manage the Kildare minors – so what changed his mind?
IN the aftermath of Kildare’s 11-point Leinster semi-final defeat to Dublin last July – the end of Bryan Murphy’s fourth year in charge of the county minors – the manager said his thank-yous and goodbyes to his backroom team, and all but announced his retirement.
Four months later, the county board have enticed him back to the job despite Murphy’s reluctance.
“I always made it clear to them (the county board) that if there was somebody else who wanted to do the job or if there was somebody else promoted by the county board and they felt it was the right person I didn’t have a hold over the job and nor did I want to be seen to have a hold over the job. At the end of the day, it’s about Kildare football, it’s not about Bryan Murphy or anybody else. It’s about what you can do for the guys coming through the system,” said Murphy.
There was a feeling gnawing away at him though. Kildare were only seconds away from a Leinster title in 2009 – Murphy’s first year – but the lack of silverware during his four years in charge bothered him. The sad passing of his mother took football off his agenda for a while but it was a chance encounter with Mickey Harte’s book that whetted his appetite to come back.
“I told them (the county board) that I wasn’t going to go back and between that and then my mother died. While that process was going on, this is kind of fate now, I was up in the shopping centre and I kept going past a book by Mickey Harte. At that stage I had no interest in looking at football or reading about football but I eventually bought the book and read it. In it he was talking about how it took him eight years to do something and about unfinished business. Then a couple of lads who were in the background of the county board asked would I not stay on and I said: “Look, the way I left it with John (McMahon) was that if nobody else wants it I have no bother coming back.” I like what I do, I like working with the young fellas, I like trying to do the job as best I can,” said Murphy.
“There are a thousand reasons why I wouldn’t come back, there were two reasons why I would. I like doing the job and I honestly believe we have achieved a lot albeit a lot of the naysayers would say we haven’t. At the end of the day we were beaten by three of the All-Ireland finalists in the four years. If you take Dublin out of the equation we were top four, five or six in the country based on all the games we played in those years. There are a number of guys who have gone through, or are on their way through, to the Kildare senior football panel too. There are six, eight, ten fellas potentially to go through to the senior team. I don’t see too many other counties in the country putting that many fellas through to a senior panel so we must have done something right.”
There was never the option for Murphy to move on with those players to the under-21 squad.
“Kieran had made it known that he wanted to hold onto the 21s so that was it really. It’s his prerogative, that was the way he wanted to keep it but again, it’s not about me really, it’s about getting people in place,” he said.
While there will be no continuity in moving Murphy along with the players he has worked with, his backroom team will be made up of mentors stepping up from the development squads, along with former All-Star Brian Lacey.
“I came up through the development squads, the three years before I took over the minors I was in the development squads trying to set up structures with Noel Mooney and a few of the lads. The key to the process for me has always been to bring fellas through with the different teams and work like that. Not everybody can come through for certain reasons, some fellas have young lads involved and I made my own policy that I wouldn’t have fellas involved in teams (with their son playing). Any of the other fellas I’ve tried to bring them in. Declan McGrath will be there this year, Aidan Minnock is going to come up from the under-16s. Brian Lacey is going to get involved with us this year. I want to acknowledge the work that Brian Heuston and Gabriel Campbell did for the last two years, it was a tremendous amount of work but Declan and Aidan are going to be elevated now,” said Murphy.
However he is unsure as to whether bringing coaches and managers through in that manner makes a huge difference.
“If you take the Dublin model the fellas come through with the teams, if you take every other county the manager is appointed by the county board. Kerry parachuted Mickey Ned O’Sullivan into the system for example. It all depends on how it works, if you are not doing a good job then you don’t deserve to stay there, the question is whether you are doing a good job or not.”
And while his four previous years haven’t provided a trophy, Murphy feels that he has been successful in many other aspects of the job.
“We haven’t had silverware but there is a huge amount of positive stuff being done. When I came on the scene first, I remember talking to young lads in Clane and they weren’t even interested in going for trials for the minor team. Now, the hardest job is telling young fellas that they are not going to make the panel. That’s not a nice place to be because you are dampening a young fella’s dreams. That’s one element and the second element is that we have always tried to get the balance right between studying and football. If I look at what fellas have achieved in the Leaving Cert, that’s a box ticked as far as I am concerned. The thing then is if you look at what fellas are coming through the system and going on to play for the under-21s and potentially going on to the senior panel. That’s another huge box ticked. Sure, we haven’t won a Leinster but we are not too far away and it just takes a small bit of luck,” he said.
Those thoughts don’t take away from a burning desire to bring back Kildare’s first Leinster title at this grade since 1991.
“You take on a job to do a number of things and when I sat in the Keadeen before I took the job, I said that within four, five or six years we had to be looking at winning a Leinster. Then you reach a Leinster final in the first year and you think this is the way it’s going to be but it’s not always that way.
“Kieran’s (McGeeney) attitude has always been that fellas from the minor and under-21s should be promoted onto the senior team and I think that is an critical development phase for those players but it’s like everything, sustainability revolves around winning. It just gives a recognition to the people in all the development squads, recognition to what the likes of Noel Mooney and his team are doing, recognition to the huge support that the county board has given us. When you win something it just cements the whole thing in terms of you have achieved something that is tangible, whereas the other things are not as tangible other than to people who are close to the scene.”