At this stage of last year the song ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’ became a viral sensation as Donegal attempted from ‘bring Sammy (Sam Maguire) back to Donegal again’.
While the fortunes of Donegal have changed in 2013, another Jimmy has been winning matches and that is Cork’s legendary Jimmy Barry-Murphy. Cork are now in the 2013 All-Ireland hurling final having defeated Dublin. Having been written off by many before the season even began, Cork have proved all doubters wrong.
It has been an incredible turnaround for Cork. There are a lot of factors involved but none more so than the influence of Jimmy Barry-Murphy. Within two years he has taken a new group of players to the brink of success when many people would have felt that Cork hurling was in a crisis. He has given this squad of players a new lease of life. Cork look like a united team and a united squad. There are very few exceptional individuals but they are playing as a collective unit at a pace and intensity that teams are finding very hard to handle.
It’s very hard to figure out what JBM has done to change things around so quickly. He put his head on the block in the winter of 2012 by reportedly relieving a number of players from the Cork panel. Donal Óg Cusack, John Gardiner, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and Niall McCarthy were not chosen for the Cork panel for 2013 while Eoin Cadogan was supposedly forced to choose between hurling and football. There were further losses through Damien Cahalane, to Cork footballers and Darren Sweetnam, to rugby, but these combined losses have had a positive effect.
The likes of Cusack, Gardiner, Cadogan and Ó hAilpín were of absolutely no loss to the Cork side for 2013. It’s something that I have written about an awful lot but I cannot stress how important I think it was for Cork hurling that these players were no longer involved. Again, credit must be given to them for what they achieved in the past, but the past is the past and Cork hurling had to move without these players. The disputes and strikes were too much, and these players had to go. It was Jimmy Barry-Murphy who made this call, not many agreed, but I fully supported his stance and he has been fully vindicated.
His actions led to a new beginning for Cork. There are new leaders in this side. People have pointed a lot to Cork’s lack of underage success in hurling but there have been a few players coming through from each side and the benefits are now beginning to show. Four players for me have really stood up in the leadership stakes and these are Shane O’Neill, William Egan, Anthony Nash and Patrick Horgan. Others have supported, no doubt, but these are four players that have grown in stature in a new panel and a new regime and I think JBM has a lot to answer for here. He has created a new team. He recognised the need for change and followed through with some brave calls.
Cork’s style of play has been a joy to watch this year and I think JBM weighed up what was in his squad and developed a style from there. In an interview in May 2012, JBM said “The kind of hurling that we play is a very skilful game, very quick and very athletic. Maybe in time we might be proved wrong and that it can’t be successful. I remain to be convinced. I want a quick, skilful and athletic team. I’d rather have greyhounds than elephants”. These are the principles that Cork have stuck to. The pace that they have played at has made life very difficult for their opponents, they have compensated for lack of size by playing at pace and 2013 has proved that it can be successful.
There is a saying that certain managers believe in players and other managers believe in systems. JBM looked at the players at his disposal and then derived a system from the hand that he held. He didn’t look at physical teams like Kilkenny and try to match them. He recognised that Cork were not a physically big team so he focused on pace, athleticism and most importantly, skill. He didn’t; try to force the players to play a system that didn’t suit them. He picked a system to suit his players. The style of play reflects JBM as a player himself, all based around pace and skill. He deserves massive credit for changing the fortunes of Cork hurling.
He is not in it alone though. His backroom team must also deserve some plaudits. Fitness coach, Dave Matthews appears to have the players peaking to perfection for games this season. They targeted the championship and he seems to have gotten the periodization of the training plan spot on. The skill levels of the Cork players are also excellent and credit must go to Ger Cunningham here. Cunningham and Matthews have really gotten these players in excellent shape in terms of fitness and skill. There must have been excellent planning and communication involved to get the players prepared so well. The combination of good coaching and management looks to be expertly balanced.
The name of Jimmy Barry-Murphy seems to automatically fill players with extra confidence. When news broke of his return there was an automatic excitement and enthusiasm ahead of 2012. He is a legend of the game in Cork and players automatically seem to be prepared to obey his commands. He obviously has a lot more to him, than just the name. His management of this group has been outstanding. Skills and fitness can be coached but the sense of team ethic in Cork this season has been highly admirable and that comes from management.
Cork have been such a great collective team this season. It’s the first time since their qualifier win over Galway in 2008 that a Cork team has looked like a united group. JBM is the man responsible for this and the Cork template of teamwork is one that should be used as an example for all players and coaches. JBM was responsible for establishing his coaching team and he has them coaching the players to play in his quick and skilful way. He is the man responsible for instilling the confidence and belief in these players and the plaudits should continue to be thrown at him.
So Jimmy is still winning matches in 2013 but it’s a different Jimmy, its Jimmy Barry-Murphy. The similarities between 1999 and 2013 are endless. JBM has taken a group of young players, put his own stamp on the team and they are reaping the rewards. 1999 led to an All-Ireland title and they are in a position to do the same in 2013. Even if Cork fail to win on the 8th of September, this season should still be regarded as a major success. Cork hurling has finally moved on from strikes and disputes and they now look like they are in a position to become a force in the game again.