Barry-Murphy insists Cork gave their all in league bid
SPORTS fans, by their nature, love a good conspiracy theory and Munster hurling certainly seems to be a hotbed for them.
But even a man as laid-back as Jimmy Barry-Murphy was shocked at the notion that Cork hurlers deliberately kept their powder dry in this year's league quarter-final against Tipperary so that they could enter the championship against Waterford next weekend under the radar.
"It's rubbish to say we weren't interested," said the man who led the Rebels so close to Munster and All-Ireland titles last year.
"Coming from our division (1B) we were mad keen to get to a semi-final if we could, and pretty disappointed not to win on the day too because we felt we could have.
"There's absolutely no question that we didn't want to win, of course we did, that makes no sense."
Conceding 2-4 in the opening 10 minutes didn't do them any favours but Cork battled back to lose the seven-goal thriller by three points (3-25 to 4-19). The big question ahead of their Munster opener is just how blunted Cork will be after a Division 1B campaign that saw them without so many of their regulars.
Their two defensive veterans – Tom Kenny and Brian Murphy – have retired since last September's game with Clare.
They may have picked up three dual players in Eoin Cadogan, Aidan Walsh and Damien Cahalane but Cadogan is out injured this weekend. Conor O'Sullivan missed the entire league with injury and Shane O'Neill is among those who've had niggles recently.
Starting that quarter-final against Tipp with only half of their All-Ireland final starters contributed to the conspiracy theories but Barry-Murphy stresses that they had a lot of genuine injuries and had to experiment in spring.
"I saw speculation that we mightn't have been that pushed about the league but the lads genuinely weren't available, we couldn't do anything about it.
"We'd quite an inexperienced team out really but I thought they gave a great account of themselves after a shocking start," he said. "Given how many were unavailable, we did well and Tipp were slightly better on the day.
"There was a world of difference in Division 1B. After just 10 minutes it was a culture shock to us, the pace it was being played at. We were miles off it (initially) but we got to grips with it."
What is remarkable, given last year's progress, is how low Cork seem to be on the All-Ireland rankings but Barry-Murphy says he understands some scepticism after their indifferent 1B campaign which saw them draw with Limerick, only beat Antrim by three points and have three goal-less displays.
"Our league performances were poor to say the least," he said. "Even though we got promoted our displays weren't of the highest order. We were trying to work out if it was a hangover from (losing) the All-Ireland final or that we were relegated and the games didn't have the same high profile as in other years.
"I would hope that was the case, that the players were just finding it hard to motivate themselves."
Leaking goals has been a problem, even in three recent challenge games against Limerick, Wexford and Dublin.
"That is something we're concerned about, it's something we have to rectify if we're to win anything," he conceded, pointing right back to the five they gave up against Clare in last year's All-Ireland final replay.
"It was a hard learning curve last year. Losing the Munster final was disappointing and losing the All-Ireland was bitterly disappointing. It took a while to get over it but I'm hoping we have and have learnt from it and that the hunger is still there to go try and win something.
"This is a reverse from our situation last year when we were relegated ahead of our first round. Waterford are in that situation this year but I don't see any big deal with that.
"I didn't think it would have any major bearing on us last year and it didn't and the same applies to Waterford."
The Deise were badly hit by injuries this year themselves. Philip Mahony and Maurice Shanahan are definitely out and Stephen Molumphy is rated doubtful, while Shane O'Sullivan is suspended after opting to withdraw his appeal against his one game ban on receipt of legal advice. But Barry-Murphy is not reading too much into their list of absentees.
"They've had success at underage level and they've a very strong panel and I heard they beat Tipperary, by a point, in a challenge game recently and were very impressive," he said.
But Barry-Murphy believes that Cork's league travails has made his panel more competitive than ever before, with competition for places at an all-time high.
"Last year has no relevance, we have a huge road to face again," he stressed. "If we're lucky enough to beat Waterford we then have to face Clare but it's such a long road we don't even think beyond Waterford.
"Munster is just a minefield now, every game is so competitive. I think we wouldn't be hot favourites against anyone in it so it's just one game at a time. I know it's a cliche but that's what it's about."