As we predicted on this very website yesterday, Cork hurling legend, Jimmy Barry-Murphy has been re-appointed as the county’s senior hurling manager after a gap of 11 years. Barry-Murphy takes over the reins from Denis Walsh who was relieved of his duties earlier this week.
The I’s still need to be dotted and the t’s still need to be crossed but the St Finbarr’s clubman is expected to be ratified at the next meeting of the county board on September 6th. It is also expected that he will be given a three year contract and will be allowed to pick his own selectors.
This move is bound to be extremely popular with Cork hurling supporters who badly need a lift after a few tumultuous years for Cork hurling with the last three years being characterised by bitter in-fighting and player strikes as well as a critical lack of success on the field of play.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy was probably the right candidate for Cork hurling at this time and his appointment is bound to unify the hurling side of the county and could well be the catalyst for the beginnings of the next great Cork team. Barry-Murphy has a habit of getting the most out of his players as epitomised by his previous term in charge of the Cork team. Back then, Barry-Murphy built his own team from scratch, bringing in young players, many of whom went on to become giants of the game over the next 12 years.
Back in the mid 1990s, Barry-Murphy took charge of the Cork minor team, eventually leading them to an All-Ireland title which led to him being appointed manager of the senior hurling team late that year.
Success did not come immediately and initially there were several disappointments. In his very first game in charge, they were hammered by Limerick in Pairc UI Chaoimh, a game that is only noteworthy for the debuts of Sean Og O’Hailpin and Joe Deane.
Cork steadily improved over the next couple of seasons, winning the league title in 1998, beating a resurgent Waterford in the final. In 1999, they battled through to the All-Ireland final where on a wet day in Croke Park, they saw off the challenge of Kilkenny, who for the first but certainly not the last time, were managed in the final by Brian Cody.
The following season did not work out as well for the Rebels as although they won the Munster championship again, they went under to a Brian Whelehan inspired Offaly team in an absorbing semi-final. The defeat heralded the end of Barry-Murphy’s tenure in charge of Cork and he was replaced by Tom Cashman.
If Cork were at a low ebb when Barry-Murphy took over in 1995, the 57 year old will be in familiar surroundings when he takes the hot seat in the next few weeks. This year has been Cork’s worst performance in the Championship for several years and in all honesty they limped out of the championship, being hammered by Galway in a game that was not even shown on live television.
Barry-Murphy will have several key decisions to make over the next few weeks and once he has his backroom team appointed, the real work will start.
His task was made all the more difficult earlier this week, when long-serving Ronan Curran announced his retirement from inter-county hurling at the age of 30 and persuading Curran to return may be a task that is high on Barry-Murphy’s list.
He will also have to decide what to do with other long-serving players who have been viewed as an disruptive influence under the previous two regimes. It is unlikely that these players would be as vocal under a legend such as Barry-Murphy whose opinion has always carried serious weight within the rebel county. The last time he was in charge, Barry-Murphy brought in a lot of players from his own successful minor team, but this is not a luxury he has this time around. Cork have not won the All-Ireland minor championship since 2001 or an Under 21 since 1998. I
f he follows a similar template to the last time, it is likely that we have seen the last of Ben and Jerry O’Connor in the Cork jersey and the likes of Donal Og Cusack and John Gardiner may also follow suit. Barry-Murphy is likely to build his own team, with the younger players on the current team likely to provide the nucleus of it. This means that players such as William Egan, Shane O’Neill, Eoin Cadogan, Stephen McDonnell and Conor Naughton will have to become leaders in their own right. They are likely to be joined by underage stars of the recent past such as Conor Lehane, Jamie Coughlan and Brian Hartnett while persuading Aidan Walsh to give inter-county hurling a try might be worth a punt as well.
Taking a step back and looking at the broader view, it is hard to argue with Barry-Murphy’s appointment. The Cork county board have received a lot of criticism of the last few years and to be fair, a lot of the criticism is justified. However, on this occasion, it would seem that they have got the decision spot on. Once, Barry-Murphy declared his interest it was a real no-brainer.