Cork have future in mind and look to put down roots
Jimmy Barry-Murphy: "We want to leave a legacy and a foundation in place for the future of Cork hurling and that would be the priority."
GAELIC GAMES:It’s not usually establishment counties like Cork, who end up beguiled by the positives of a league campaign but a year ago under new manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy, some promising results led to sporadic outbreaks of the wild talk of mushrooms springing up over night.
As it turned out, the league final against Kilkenny acted as a dose of paraquat to that notional harvest but it was a reminder that whatever about All-Ireland winning teams, high hopes find very fertile soil in Cork.
For Barry-Murphy with all the baggage of a legendary playing career and an All-Ireland winning term as a manager, that final with its painful realities did undermine the progress of an upbeat divisional campaign.
“I’d feel it certainly did. The manner of the defeat rattled me because I didn’t see that coming because of our performances during the league up until that. But when it comes to handing out silverware the Kilkenny’s of the world are at a different level than we were at, which was an eye opener.
“The margin and the manner of the defeat were a shock. In the end I think we’d a reasonable year, getting to an All-Ireland semi-final and making some progress, but we wouldn’t be exactly patting ourselves on the back for it either.”
He points out that in 2012 the team had most of their matches at home and when momentum picked up, it was hard to resist the siren call of early-season success.
“Last year during the league, if you want to be critical, we stuck to the same players throughout the league, which isn’t ideal because a number of other players then don’t get a chance.
“This year we’ve given a few players an opportunity in the Waterford Crystal preseason competition and that’s been quite satisfactory and quite a few of those players will be playing on Saturday night so we’ll get a look at what they can do at a higher level.”
He’s happy with the pre-season and the substantial numbers trialled but there were also less positive developments that attracted public attention. Dual players Eoin Cadogan and Damien Cahalane decamped to concentrate on football, promising rookie Darren Sweetnam took up a rugby contract and last year’s captain Dónal Cusack, a major influence on the county’s hurling for more than a decade, was cut from the panel.
Barry-Murphy feels that the departure of the dual players was inevitable.
“It’s the reality of life and in fairness to the lads involved they had to make a call, like I had to as a player. It’s very difficult to play both, practically impossible. You never have the player as much as you want him from a hurling point of view and players can’t get to the level of performance they’d like.
“Darren’s been playing rugby from a very young age and there’s always been a chance this would happen but we were very disappointed to lose him because he is a marvellous talent and made amazing progress with us last year.”
He is reluctant to discuss Cusack’s removal but accepts that there was never going to be a quiet way of effecting the change.
“In fairness to Dónal Óg he’s a very high-profile figure in Cork hurling so it was bound to generate a certain amount of controversy. That’s understandable but I’d to make a call on that and I did it as honestly as I could at the time.”
There was criticism of the move on the grounds that the player had worked hard to recover from a serious Achilles tendon injury that ended his season in last April’s league semi-final. Should he have been told earlier?
“I don’t want to go into what was said about it at the time.”
His previous term as manager was a painstaking development project based on the minors he’d taken to the 1995 All-Ireland. This promises to be even more arduous, as the county’s mantelpiece hasn’t seen under-age silverware in a long time.
Barry-Murphy knows this and the medium-term implications.
“We’re working for the here and now but we’re planning forward as well because at the end of the day while it’s quite possible we mightn’t win an All-Ireland we want to leave a legacy and a foundation in place for the future of Cork hurling and that would be the priority.
“We haven’t won anything in seven years, which is a problem but that’s the reality we’re dealing with at the moment.”