Cork are under pressure and Cunningham's Dubs will be ripe for revenge, says former Rebels boss
Published 05/03/2016 | 02:30
Hurling is a magnificent game and a great GAA spectacle, but it revolves around a relatively small community in terms of key figures and their influence at inter-county level.
Quite simply, that means there are not enough top jobs to go around given the level of expertise available from within the key hurling entities.
So what happens when 'exiles' are appointed to manage teams that must eventually cross paths with their home county?
Dublin manager Ger Cunningham - a Cork hero as a player and a past member of John Allen's managerial team with the Cork 2005 All-Ireland winners - faces that situation against Kieran Kingston's Rebels at Croke Park (5.0pm).
Allen, who went on to manage Limerick in their 2013 Munster final win over Cork, has direct experience of the inner conflict that comes with presiding over another team's fortunes.
The former Cork boss believes that if there is a difficulty within about opposing your native county, it kicks in early. "For me personally, the biggest decision I had to make before I accepted the Limerick job was: could I manage against Cork?
"Could I stand on the sideline, having been a Cork manager, having been with the team for so many years, could I stand there and not be a Cork manager, and be managing against them," reasons Allen.
"But, like anything you do in your life, once mentally you've gone there and made a decision, when we played Cork in the Munster final in '13, I didn't find it put on extra pressure.
"For Ger, managing against Cork, it's his second year. He went up against them last year, so the biggest issue both managers have on Saturday night is the pressure of winning."
On this corresponding weekend last year, Cunningham had barely got into his stride in the Dublin job when Jimmy Barry-Murphy brought Cork to Croke Park for a 'Spring Series' League clash.
JBM played down the presence of his former St Finbarr's and Cork team-mate before and after the 11 point drubbing his players inflicted on Cunningham's Dublin.
And yet….surely there had to be a tad more satisfaction at beating a team managed by a fellow Cork man and ex-team mate, and past selector?
No hard feelings, but you wouldn't be human if that win did not mean just a tad more than the two Allianz League points on offer.
The Barry-Murphy jinx on Cunningham continued in the League semi-final last April, but this time by just a point at 1-27 to 2-23.
Allen considers that if there was any added pressure on Cunningham, it would be confined to those games in 2015, particularly as the Dublin boss had been part of Barry-Murphy's backroom team in Cork a couple of years earlier.
"I would think so, particularly as Jimmy was manager and Ger was coach of Cork," Allen reflects.
"And I would say particularly he would have felt it as the game (League semi-final) was slipping away, with a big lead and to be caught on the post.
"You could see by Jimmy's reaction at the end, it was caught on television, that they were really happy to beat Dublin, so there was a bit of an edge there."
On the broader front, and not in relation to Cunningham, or Barry-Murphy, or Kieran Kingston, Allen readily admits that sometimes a win against a manager that is not your favourite person can prove very satisfying.
"Everybody's a human being. You have your private thoughts about other people, as they have about you. On the managerial roundabout, not everybody is friendly with everybody else.
"I've no doubt that there are certain managers you wouldn't want your to team to be beaten by, but I wouldn't say that's the case on this occasion.
"I think Kieran and Ger are good friends," says Allen.
Any friendships will be put aside for 70 minutes this evening as a fascinating battle for much-needed League points plays out in the hurling/football Dubs v Cork double-header.
The Rebel hurlers are anchored at the bottom of the table following defeats to Galway and Waterford, while Dublin were impressive in defeating Wexford in the recent Walsh Cup final.
They then crashed against Tipperary and rose again to defeat Galway at Parnell Park.
"We saw Dublin play (v Galway) with a lot of spirit and drive and determination that wasn't there the first day.
"Cork don't have an abundance of riches," says Allen matter-of-factly. "There are a few players missing, and they can't afford to be without those players, so Cork are under pressure."