Nothing less than success will do for Purcell and Kildare
By Brendan Coffey
FOR a man who didn't think he'd make it through his first training session, Mick Purcell isn't doing too bad.
On a sunny day in Naas, where his Kilkenny parents imbued him with a love of hurling, he is ten days away from a national league final with Kildare. A hurley was never far from his hand growing up yet he's surprised to be having a conversation with a newspaper reporter about a subject close to his heart.
“I didn't think I'd be here talking to you now,” he says looking back on his first taste of life in the Kildare senior hurling squad back in January. “I thought I'd be gotten rid of,” he says with devastating honesty. Although he'd hurled inter-county at minor and under-21 level, this was a major step-up even for a man who stands over six feet tall and comes from the same bloodline as Kilkenny All-Ireland winning centre-forward John Power, who's a first cousin of his mother.
Mick Purcell shows some fancy foot work against GMIT earlier this year
“I remember going into my first training session, we were doing them in threes and I was paired with Mark (Moloney) and Fiachra (Ó Muineacháin) and the size of them. I got a bit of a shock to be honest because I always thought I was big enough with the club but when you go into the county, everything steps up that one notch.”
Having come close to vomiting, he had to stomach some harsh words from his fellow clubman and team selector Don McSweeney.
“Don said it to me after that (first) training session that everything needs to improve: your strength, speed, fitness and the touch as well.”
Even if he didn't think he'd be invited back, Purcell stuck at it and earned a starting place in the side for the first league game against Meath in Navan. With another year at under-21 level, Purcell is still developing but that afternoon in Navan it felt like he had no time at all. The first ball he won, he was blocked down.
“That's the difference, the time on the the ball, the speed of thought and the speed of action,” says Purcell, who has struggled to regain a starting place since but you'll not hear him complaining. He's covered the hard yards and he can feel the benefit. He sees it in guys like Dave Smyth from Moorefield, who impressed against Mayo in the last round of the league. If each player improves a little bit then the team can make big strides.
“I'm running faster and for longer periods. Even if you look at the likes of Dave Smyth. Dave scored a great point against Mayo and Dave isn't half the man he was back in January. You wouldn't have picked him but I'd say he's after losing somewhere in the region of about two stone and he's flying it now, he's our best trainer. Lads like him, the improvements are there for all to see. If there's small improvements in everyone, it's a huge improvement in the team.”
Together they've won four of their six competitive games this year and one of those was a game they left behind against GMIT in the first round of the Kehoe Cup. After an opening day win against Meath in the league, they were hardly troubled as they picked up three more wins to book a place in the league final. Defeat to Mayo didn't come at any great cost because their opening round opponents, Meath, await them in the final.
“It would be brilliant to win the league because the teams that we'll have to compete with in the latter end of the Christy Ring, Kerry and Wicklow, they're a division above us and no matter what you say, a division above is a step up in intensity. And what we're trying to do is match that intensity and winning the league is huge in terms of getting regular games at that speed,” says Purcell, who knows that: “success is not on the big day it's just all the small things that lead up to it.”
The last four months have been an eye-opener for the Naas midfielder and he's learned as much from the professionalism and single-mindedness of his manager Willie Sunderland as he has from those around him. More experienced and established players like Mark Moloney and captain Fiachra Ó Muineacháin, his sparring partners from that first night in the gym, have been stressing the importance of the work you do away from training, whether it's with weights or the sliotar in the ball alley. At training last Wednesday Tony Murphy reminded the younger lads how lucky they were to be playing in a league final – in his ten years with the county he's only played in one league final before.
“There's no room for complacency,” says Purcell. “Willie (Sunderland) is driving it home to us every night at training. Willie's a professional like and he has to be like that because you're not going to win anything otherwise. You see Brian Cody in Kilkenny, they put up 3-26 against Galway and Cody said it was 'a decent response from his players.' Like if that's decent, what does Cody expect? And Willie's the very same. David Harney said to me that this was the strongest panel he'd ever been involved in and he's been there the guts of 10 or 12 years.”
Purcell is one of eight under-21s on the panel and along with the likes of Ross Kelly, Bernard Deay, Mark Delaney and Gerry Keegan, they have really freshened up the squad. Last year was a write-off for Kildare in the league and by the end of the campaign, they were looking for a new manager. Twelve months later, they're hunting for silverware.
*NHL Division 2B Final: Sunday, 15 April, 4pm, Parnell Park: Kildare v Meath
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