Sports Review 2023: Murphy’s incredible reflex save showed hurling’s facility for the impossible

The Kilkenny goalkeeper came to his side’s rescue with a simply stunning stop to deny Clare’s Peter Duggan a last-gasp equalising goal

All-Ireland SHC semi-final, July 9th, Croke Park: Kilkenny 1-25 Clare 1-22

Hurling’s facility for the impossible can sometimes attack you in waves. Ultimately, that’s what draws us to it as spectators. Every time you watch a passage of play in any sport, you’re making mental calculations of what can happen next. Hurling’s USP is the feeling that it beats the odds more frequently than the others.

So when Clare had a sideline cut against Kilkenny in injury-time in the All-Ireland semi-final, you looked at the clock and did the maths. Two minutes gone of the allotted three, Clare losing by 1-24 to 1-21. Kilkenny had a dozen players back to mind the house. A goal for Clare looked pretty impossible.

And when the ball landed in the dense thicket of players around the edge of the D in front of Hill 16 and a ruck formed with four Kilkenny players jabbing at three Clare ones, mere possession looked impossible, never mind a goal. And even when David Fitzgerald managed to come away with it, he immediately turned to be faced by a group of seven Kilkenny men, which obviously meant a good outcome for Clare was properly impossible now.

In desperation, he dished off a handpass. But the best he could do was a high, loopy one that left Peter Duggan with an impossible task now. Duggan has scored a succession of brilliant goals and points and sideline cuts down the years but they’ve been predominantly off his right side. This ball was coming to him at shoulder height, he was going to have to meet it first time and he was going to be swinging off his left. Impossible.

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And yet. Duggan slashed and met the ball with a strike of undiluted venom. The sliotar rose and dipped, past Pádraig Walsh and bound for the net, just under the black spot. In a nanomoment like that, the best any goalkeeper can hope for is to happen to get in the way. Actually reacting in time to change the flight path? Beyond impossible.

Except. The people that know hurling goalkeeping reckon Eoin Murphy might be the best ever to do it. He got across, got his hurl up, flicked his wrist to meet Duggan’s shot and deflected it onto the crossbar. A genuinely stunning feat of athleticism, courage and hand-eye co-ordination.

If you were in the ground that day, you might have seen the save first time and you might not. But when it was replayed on the big screen, there was a collective oooooohhhhh when the slow-motion footage revealed Murphy’s intervention. And then, no kidding, a kind of disbelieving giggle.

As if we couldn’t really quite believe it had happened. As if hurling had yet again laughed in the face of impossible.

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