Sean Og eager to step out of shadows
Published 18/10/2011 | 05:00
Jimmy Barry-Murphy's mobile phone number hasn't changed since his last spell as Cork hurling manager, which ended after their All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Offaly in 2000.
So when the call came through last Friday, Sean Og O hAilpin is sure to have recognised it and understood the significance of it.
Almost 12 months to the day since O hAilpin ended a short meeting with Denis Walsh where it had been conveyed to him he was surplus to requirements for the 2011 campaign, the opportunity he craved was about to be put in front of him.
Barry-Murphy wasn't ringing to shoot the breeze, he was ringing with a firm offer of a place on a 32-man training squad that was being released the following day.
There were no guarantees. Both men knew the situation, that after 12 months in enforced exile, Sean Og was facing a challenge.
But it's a challenge that the former captain has consistently said he wanted one more time.
For whatever reason O hAilpin was moved on 12 month ago -- reasons that were never fully explained -- a lack of hunger or desire for the game and for representing Cork was never one of them.
In time, maybe the reasons Walsh had for taking the decision will become apparent. Maybe the inter-county game has passed him by but there was no evidence that Cork benefited greatly from his enforced departure.
JBM and Sean Og go back a long way. After all, it was on one of the most humiliating days for Cork hurling that Sean Og was given his debut in Barry-Murphy's championship game as senior manager -- that ill-fated 3-18 to 1-8 defeat to Limerick in Pairc Ui Chaoimh in 1996, their first at their home venue for 75 years.
Once he had some consensus from his management team the manager was always going to offer O hAilpin a chance to return.
"There are no guarantees," said Barry-Murphy yesterday. "But bringing Sean Og back is worth a try. He's been out for a year and obviously there are risks in that. It's difficult for any player to come back after such an absence. He knows that.
"We looked at him in some club games. He wasn't exceptional or anything like that but we felt he is worth inclusion.
"We haven't discussed a role. Sean Og will get his chance just like everyone else on the same terms."
For any 34-year-old there is an inherent risk attached to resuming an inter-county career even after an absence as short as his has been.
When Brian Corcoran returned prior to the 2004 championship, he had been out of the Cork side for almost three years but was still only 30 years of age.
DJ Carey had not hurled with Kilkenny since the previous All-Ireland semi-final 12 months earlier, when he returned for their epic All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary in 2002. But the absence didn't have much impact on the then 31-year-old as he helped himself to an All-Ireland medal and his last All Star award.
In football Kerry have made a habit of recycling and regenerating, with 30-year-old Mike McCarthy winning an All-Ireland medal in 2009, just three months after he ended his self-imposed three-year exile, and Eoin Brosnan acquitting himself well this year after almost two years out.
Last May Meath manager Seamus McEnaney deemed it worth all the fuss to involve Graham Geraghty again at the age of 38.
But the best example of a player in his 30s performing to a high level is across the Cork border in Waterford, where Tony Browne continues to defy his years.
O hAilpin has held up the example of Browne in the past and with the same devotion to physical conditioning that they share, that's not an area that O hAilpin is likely to fall behind on.
The option of playing midfield instead of half-back, where John Gardiner, Shane O'Neill, William Egan and Jamie Nagle will all make strong claims, cannot be discounted either, and with Jerry O'Connor retiring, the need for experience in that area is obvious, even in an impact role.
Barry-Murphy is seen as the great unifier in Cork hurling, perhaps the only man in a position to properly heal the rifts and mistrust that have developed across all levels of the sport in the Rebel county through the three player strikes over the last decade.
Restoring O hAilpin, apart from his obvious potential benefits as a player, helps that process somewhat.
For sure, Cork hurling needs to move on, but it can't forget its past too quickly either.
With Ronan Curran and O'Connor retiring and Kieran Murphy unavailable, the vein of experience has got thinner.
Restoring him may lift the likes of Donal Og Cusack, Gardiner, Ben O'Connor and Niall McCarthy, a potential captain, to one last big effort.
What he does on the field will ultimately determine if JBM was right to recall O hAilpin.
But you get the sense that he was right to recall him anyway to give him the opportunity to bring his inter-county career to a conclusion on his own terms.
His record of service deserves that at least.