Beginnings are always so beguiling. The endless sense of possibility. The open road ahead of you. No baggage to weigh you down. Just a clean slate and a bucket of goodwill.
here was definitely the sense of a new day dawning in Austin Stack Park early on Sunday afternoon when new Kerry hurling boss Stephen Molumphy was presented to the press for the first time.
With his two sons Fionn and Jack buzzing around hurls in hand, newly bedecked in the the green and gold, there really was a first day of school vibe around the John Joe Sheehy Road venue.
The Waterford native was relaxed, and most personable, but along with the smile and the bonhomie you could tell his is a man who means business. There’s a steeliness to the military man that his players will, no doubt, come to know more over time.
Certainly he doesn’t seem the type of man to take on a job such as this without having considered it from every conceivable angle. You wouldn’t expect any different from an army man other than to have his reconnaissance done.
“Three years ago we watched a number of Kerry games and how close they got and we saw the potential and I wanted to get involved 100%,” he explains.
“I was with Pat [Bennett] when we had a look at that and we thought three years ago that it would be a fantastic opportunity because they’re going places. Obviously they came so close, but had the gap opened up two years ago or last year we would have been going for it.
“Luckily this year it did and I put my name forward for it straight away and luckily we’re here now in front of you.”
The decision to put his name forward, then, was far from a whim. Molumphy very much knew what he was getting himself in for. He looked at the trajectory of this Kerry side and liked what he saw.
“Potential I think is the biggest thing,” he says.
“As I said we looked at them three years ago and we heard names, but once we saw them play we could see their potential and the places they could go. Definitely that aspect brought us down.”
That sort of admiration from a far has only been re-enforced further since arriving in the Kingdom in the last couple of weeks.
“We’ve met the lads already individually and then as a group afterwards. We’ve a couple of weeks work done already and the one thing we can’t get over is the physicality and the physique of these guys,” he continues.
“Other inter-county teams don’t have that physique, which you seem to have naturally down here. There’s a lot of very talented and strong players out there and even after watching the county final and semi-finals, streaming them and we were going today to another match, Crotta and Ballyduff just got called off, seeing that talent it’s there.
“The biggest thing is potential. We’ve seen working with other counties that potential is there [in Kerry]. That’s what garnered the interest a couple of years ago and that’s why we’re here now.
“We want to build on that, build on the gains by previous managements and go one step further.”
Having been and lost the last two Joe McDonagh Cup finals – against Antrim and Westmeath – and the last two Division 2A finals – against Westmeath and Antrim – there is a sense that Kerry aren’t that far away at all.
Okay other than maybe the 2019 league final against Westmeath in Ennis, Kerry have never really been in a position to win. Still the fact remains they’ve been consistently getting themselves into the position to progress.
“What you’ve said about the previous managements, that’s right. They’ve made huge strides and gains. Obviously you can see the record in the last five years,” Molumphy concurs.
“I think they’re very close to the cusp of it, but it’s very competitive. Westmeath, Offaly, you’ve those teams, Antrim as well at certain stages. It is going to be extremely competitive and it will come down to the wire, but I think we’d like to make strides in particular areas.
“Maybe with the style we’ll play it’ll be different. Definitely honesty is the biggest thing we’ll give them and we’ll expect from them back to us, with honesty and integrity throughout. What we’ve seen so far is very positive, it is.”
It’s not just about seeing what can be achieved, it’s about what you can do to realise that potential and the former Waterford captain was never going to take the job without having a plan in mind.
Much has been made of Molumphy’s military background, with the notion following that he’s been brought in to bring an extra rigor and discipline to the Kingdom as they seek to make that last step.
Interestingly, the Commandant makes no attempt to back away from that aspect of his management.
“We’ve laid out the stall already and I suppose you’re right a very disciplinarian kind of structure we’ve given them,” he admits.
“We’ve given the lads the plan for the next three months to the start of the league. They know the nights they’re on, the nights they’re off, the nights they have to do the home stuff. We’ve laid out everything to them and to be honest the response we’ve got back is great.
“We’ve already set them challenges. One of those challenges is actually to be completed by the end of today and, to be honest, the feedback has been great. That sets a positive tone for the rest of the year. Guys are already committed towards this.
“They know what’s on the line and what I keep saying to all the players – and you can see it from the management style – is that all the selectors and coaches all have inter-county experience.
“They’ve all been there so what we’re telling the lads is put the effort in. Put the commitment in, 110%, and it will be worth it. The feed back we’ve got is fantastic and we’re looking to drive it on from there.”
The Kingdom, of course, shared the bill with Molumphy’s native Waterford in last December in the famous behind-closed-doors All Ireland final. All the same one wouldn’t expect knowledge of Kerry hurling to be hugely high in the Déise county.
Not so according to Molumphy, who outlined the reaction at home when he took the Kingdom hot-seat.
“It was very positive,” he says.
“It’s amazing how many people know. They mention North Kerry, but also they knew about Joe McDonagh, the finals, they all knew that basically. So they have been on the radar for the last number of years.
“It’s not like they’ve come out of the wilderness. Everyone knows about Kerry and people are asking are they playing in Division 1 or Division 2 this year, so they know they’re on the cusp, and a lot of names.
“People are mentioning names of Kerry hurlers in Waterford because they’ve heard of these guys doing things.”
The close connection between Molumphy and his selector Pat Bennett is quite obvious. The former Waterford selector travelled to Tralee on Sunday with the new Kerry boss – as he will throughout their stay in the Kingdom.
Bennett – whose three sons Shane, Kieran and Stephen play for the Waterford senior hurlers – seems like a very solid guy, passionate and knowledgeable about his hurling. An invaluable sounding board for the young manager.
“We’ve worked a lot together and we see things similarly,” Molumphy explains.
“We’ve a similar style of hurling, both dogs to be honest on the pitch! It would have been ourselves looking at Kerry three years ago and seeing the talent there and very much looking at the opportunity and, again, we’ve brought in a great team, worked with Shane Briggs and Brendan O’Sullivan.
“We’re delighted with the team we have. We’ve already done a lot of work with the players and ourselves so we can hit the ground running when we come back on the pitch.”
To that end the new boss already has his panel in place – albeit with the proviso that the panel remains open ended for now. Some players are understood to be unable to commit to 2021 for one reason or another, but Molumphy is understanding of that
“We’ve most of that work done,” he says.
“We’ve about 98% picked, but we’ve a a couple of changes. Some guys just can’t, some guys travelling or just with work and things like that can’t commit. Some guys have called time on their career, but then we’ve new guys in as well.
“We begin with a big panel, stretched to the max, we like that to have a few extra as well, but we’ve a couple who I suppose commitment wise and new guys who’ve stepped up. I won’t name names, because there’s a few that haven’t announced it yet.
“We want these guys to announce it themselves, rather than me calling time on anyone’s career.
“We’ve a couple of changes, a couple of new guys, it’s going to happen. We’ve now laid out basically what we’re going to do. We know the plan, the road map for the year, they’re basically judging it now if they can make the commitment for the year.
“It must be 100%. It’s all in basically. With the effort you’re putting in, you’re putting your life on hold basically and that’s it I suppose. The reward then is having a title in your back pocket this time or next June 30. That’s the reward for it.”
That’s what it’s all about at the end of it all, having something tangible to show for it and having come so close so often to silverware in the last couple of years you’ve got to imagine these Kerry players are primed to commit to just that.
As for the new boss, he’s quite happy to lay his cards down on the table. He’s here to win.
“Managers don’t maybe like to say it, but silverware is the thing you’re judged upon, but to get there it’s the development of the lads,” he says.
“That’s what the potential is, developing them. From what we’ve seen and been and one what we’ve coached and managed it’s developing the lads to get that silverware. End of the year we need to have something on the table when we’re doing this in twelve months time, please god, that we have something there and we’re moving on again.
“To get there we need to develop them. It can’t be the same thing again, they all have to step up, they have to change their mind-sets in a few areas definitely with what we want to do. It is to have that title and that medal in your back pocket, but developing players is the only way we’re going to get it.”
The development of those players will be made easier, the All Star award winner feels, by a return to the Kerry GAA Centre of Excellence in Currans. Covid concerns have meant Kerry haven’t utilised it as much as they would have liked to have done. That’s about to change.
“100% it’s our base for the year,” Molumphy says.
“It’s phenomenal like. As our performance coach said when we walked in there – obviously we did a few weeks back we went in to have a look – he just said coming in here makes you feel six inches more professional. It’s an unbelievable set-up.
“It’s as good if not better than anything I’ve seen out there. That place is ideal. We’ll be basing ourselves 100% out there and this place [Stack Park] I love that historical background, being named after Austin Stack, the military background and the nature of a lot of what we’re going to be doing in our training camps we’re delighted to be here and it’s one of the best facilities we have and pitches in the county.
“It does 100% [make a difference on the field]. You want the players to be professional in everything they do so you want to give them the resource behind them. The County Board have come in behind us and Ger [McCarthy] as team secretary and a fountain of knowledge in that regard and we’re lucky to have that.
“When you ask a player to do something to a professional standard you have to give them the recourses and Currans is 100% phenomenal. You can see there already to be honest we can’t wait to get out there and put the lads through their paces.
“They might not look forward to coming to Currans for a long time, but we can’t wait to get out there to work.”
A bit like with Jack O’Connor, it could well be that Molumphy’s rigor is just what’s required to get Kerry over the line. It won’t be easy for manager or players alike, but you wouldn’t back against them, would you?