UPDATE: JIMMY BARRY MURPHY HAS BEEN APPOINTED MANAGER
This time five years ago, Cork hurling fans had rarely had it so good. They were facing into an All-Ireland final against Kilkenny as hot favourites to claim a third title on the trot and take their place in hurling folklore as one of the best teams the game had ever seen.
However, the five intervening years have not been so good for Cork and the good days have been few and far between. Today, it is difficult to remember when Cork hurling has been at a lower ebb as despite sticking ten goals past a hapless Laois outfit during the summer, they made absolutely no impression in the championship.
This week, Cork hurling manager, Denis Walsh was dismissed from the position by the county board. When installed as manager, in March 2009, Walsh was touted as a calming influence after the tumultuous end to the reign of Gerald McCarthy during which the Senior players went on strike rather than play under him.
Under Walsh, Cork have flattered to deceive with a ten point victory over Tipperary in the Munster championship last year, papering over more cracks than are in the walls of a NAMA housing estate.
In fairness to Walsh, he has left with his head held high, apologising to fans for the defeats of the last two years and deep down, one feels that he was probably too much of a gentleman to be dealing with the current generation of Cork hurlers. In his statement, released by the County Board, Walsh said, “I take full responsibility for the results of last 2 years. Cork remained competitive and produced several decent displays while at the same time introducing many new players. The manner of our exit from the 2010 and 2011 Championships were un-acceptable and I apologise to all Cork Supports for that fact.”
So what now for Cork hurling? Who will be the man on the line by the time the league comes around again next Spring? There is no doubt who the Rebel supporters want to take over the reins and that is the same man they turned to the last time they were in such a predicament. And that man is none other than Jimmy Barry Murphy. Of course, at this stage nothing is certain, but it is reported that Barry-Murphy is interested in a return to management and after the success of his previous term, he would be welcomed with open arms.
Barry-Murphy took charge of Cork in 1996 and such were their fortunes at the time, that their only championship game of that year was a hammering at the hands of Limerick. Barry-Murphy had invested his fate in youth that year and the game also marked the debut of a certain Joe Deane who was just out of the minor ranks. His fate in his young guns was rewarded three years later, when Cork emerged from the pack to beat Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final.
The rumour doing the rounds is that Barry-Murphy will team up with former goalkeeper, Ger Cunningham (a man linked with the Waterford job, should Davy Fitzgerald depart).
But, who else is in the running should the JBM story turn out to be just a rumour and a spot of wishful thinking on behalf of Cork supporters. This year’s Cork Under 21 team won a lot of admirers for the way they played against Tipperary in the Munster championship. This team had talented players such as Conor Lehane, William Egan, Damien Cahalane, James Coughlan and footballer-cum hurler, Aidan Walsh in its ranks and having brought these players this far, there is a school of thought that Ger Fitzgerald may be the man to now step into the senior hot seat. He may also be the man to persuade Walsh to play for the senior hurling team next year.
The other name being bandied about at this stage is Donal O’Grady but it would appear that he is going to remain with Limerick for another year at least.
Whoever, does take over the Cork job, is going to have a major rebuilding job to do that was only half-started by Walsh. Ronan Curran has already announced his retirement and the likelihood is that the Ben and Jerry show is about to come to an end while John Gardiner has also indicated that he may follow suit. The most influencing player in the Cork dressing room would appear to be Donal Og Cusack and it remains to be seen what his intentions are for the coming year.
This story could run and run for the next few weeks and there might be even a twist and a turn along the way. If JBM wants the job it is his to turn down but do not write off anything yet.