JBM confident Rebels are ready
JIMMY Barry-Murphy is satisfied that Cork couldn't be in better shape heading into next Sunday's Munster championship opener against Waterford.
Now into the third year of his current tenure, having steered Cork to All-Ireland glory during his previous stint at the helm between 1996 and 2000, the Rebel boss believes he has a stronger panel than at any time over the past two seasons.
"I'm very pleased with it, and I'd say we've never had greater competition for places on the team since I came back as manager. To be honest, it's going to be very difficult to pick the starting fifteen, because we have so many options, and quite a number of players are going to be disappointed they won't be playing on Sunday.
"It's the sort of headache we, as a management, like to have, and it's something I'm delighted about," he remarked.
For all that, JBM says he isn't any more hopeful regarding Cork's prospects than he was before the 2012 and 2013 championships.
"Munster is a real minefield now, and, while we reached an All-Ireland semi final in 2012 and an All-Ireland final last year, I wouldn't think we'd be hot favourites against anyone. What happened last year has no relevance, we've got a huge road to face again, and we aren't even thinking beyond the Waterford game at this stage.
"We know the level we're at, we have won nothing yet, and it's going to be a tough upward climb even to get back to where we were last September," he stressed
JBM says he is reasonably happy with the way the season has gone so far, stating that gaining promotion from Division 1B in the league was very pleasing.
"I didn't think our displays in the league were of the highest order, to say the least, but we were trying out a lot of new players, and maybe playing in the lower division had an effect in that the games didn't have the same high-profile and attraction as they would have had in other years.
"It could also be the case that we had a bit of a hangover from last year, and it possibly took the lads a while to motivate themselves after losing the All-Ireland final against Clare. I'm hoping they have got over that by now, and that the hunger is still there to try and win something.
"The advent of the good weather in the championship should be a help in this regard, and I certainly couldn't be happier with our preparations and with the way the training has gone," he revealed.
JBM agreed that Cork's performance in the league quarter-final against Tipperary was fairly encouraging, adding that the game was a bit of a culture shock from the management's perspective.
"With due respect to most of the teams in Division 1B, it felt as if we were in a different world playing Tipp, and we were miles off the pace in the first ten minutes. We fell 2-4 behind, and memories of the league final debacle against Kilkenny in 2012 came flooding back, but, in fairness, we did get to grips with it.
"We came back well with an inexperienced team, and we could have won it in the end, but Tipp were slightly better than us on the day, although I thought the lads gave a very good account of themselves."
Cork have played three challenge games in recent weeks against Limerick, Wexford and Dublin, which JBM described as very worthwhile work-outs.
"We learned a lot from them, and, apart from Eoin Cadogan who hasn't been able to train for the past few weeks, everyone is available for the Waterford game, including Paudie O'Sullivan, who played in the challenge match against Dublin, and did quite well.
"It's a great boost for us to have Paudie back in contention, he went through a horrendous time with his injury, I think he's had four or five operations, but he's made a fantastic improvement in recent weeks."
Also back is Conor O'Sullivan, who missed the entire league campaign, but JBM admits it's a bit of a worry going into such a big game that the Sarsfields clubman hasn't a lot of hurling done this year. Indeed, JBM says the defence as a unit has been a cause for concern for a while now, referring to the five goals that were leaked in last year's All-Ireland final replay against Clare.
"Even in the few recent challenge games, we weren't happy with the amount of chances we gave to the opposition, and ideally you'd like to have a very settled defence going forward.
"It's a problem we have looked at quite closely, and it's something we are going to have to rectify if we are to winanything this year," he warned.
He's expecting Waterford to provide Cork with a very stern test on Sunday, dismissing the suggestion that demotion in the league, allied with reports of a serious injury crisis, is going to militate against their chances.
"I wouldn't read too much into what I'm hearing about their injuries, as the only player I know that's definitely out is Philip O'Mahony who has a broken leg. As for the relegation issue, I didn't see it as a big deal when we were relegated last year, I wasn't worried it was going to make a difference heading into the championship, and I'm sure the same applies to Waterford.
"They have had success at under-age level in recent times, they have a very strong panel, and most of the games between Cork and Waterford over the past fifteen years or so have been phenomenal, with very little in it either way.
"I expect it will be the same this time, but, while I'd be very wary of Waterford, I'd be confident we can progress if we bring our A-game to the table on Sunday," concluded the Leeside legend, who, a five-time All-Ireland medal winner during a glittering hurling career stretching from 1975 to 1986, has never tasted defeat either as a player or manager in a championship game against Waterford up to now.