‘The name alone is enough to inspire’, says O’Sullivan
Barry-Murphy’s youth policy revitalises Rebels
Published 30/03/2012 | 05:00
Jimmy Barry-Murphy radiates something very different in person, a man for whom generations are largely irrelevant.
You could appreciate that standing in the wings in Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday evening last waiting for him to wrap up his couple of TV interviews.
Cork had just dug their heels in to reel off a two-point win over visiting Kilkenny with a display of real grit and determination and there were a lot of contented faces in the vicinity.
The 'Pairc' is one of those venues where the kids and the adults like to mill around after a game and if there are cameras and interviews, they will generally be drawn around the subject to deliver the customary cheer when the interview concludes.
But with Barry-Murphy it was like an attraction to a magnet. You don't see many of his generation still having programmes thrust in front of them for autographs, but last Sunday evening they came close to forming an orderly queue around one of very few GAA personalities for whom initials do fine.
Any win over Kilkenny is obviously good for business but the manner of it, coming seven days after the concession of an eight-point lead to Galway, embellished its status that bit more.
Of course, by his very nature Barry-Murphy is keen to play down the effect he might be having or the weight of the results they've enjoyed so far. He never needs to be reminded of the team's fate in his first season as manager the last time he had this job, that dismal defeat to Limerick a real stomach-wrencher.
But there is an unmistakable bounce to Cork hurling over the last month, shaped by a flush of youth, which has coursed its way through the squad. JBM puts people at their ease.
"He's just so laid-back, it generates a great atmosphere in training. He's a fella you want to do well for -- Jimmy Barry-Murphy, the name alone is nearly enough. Everyone knows what he's done down the years and he gives you great encouragement, great confidence, and for the forwards especially, he wants us to play hurling the way it was meant to be played," said Paudie O'Sullivan.
The bounce referred to may be a source of amusement to his predecessor Denis Walsh. He too enjoyed a 'Pairc' victory over Kilkenny in the 2010 league and a look back at his last championship team underlined that change was very much under way anyway.
But JBM just has a habit of bringing people with him and hasn't been slow about invoking crowd support before and after their matches. He knows how interest in the team may have tapered somewhat in the years since the strikes of 2007 and 2008.
For Cork's three home league matches, the crowds have been close to 8,000, against Waterford and Kilkenny, and over 13,000 for the double bill with the footballers.
The changing face of Cork hurling is reflected more than anything in the selection of Darren Sweetnam at midfield for three of the games so far.
He is a talented rugby and hockey player from a part of the county unaccustomed to servicing the hurling squad, but already his warrior qualities have made a sizable impression. In the company of arguably the game's most robust midfield pairing last Sunday, the 18-year-old gave as good as he got.
And then there is Conor Lehane, arguably the player of the league so far, whose burst of pace and innate skill has electrified Cork hurling supporters so far.
Ten seconds into last Sunday's game, he got a rude awakening to hurling at the highest level when Michael Fennelly crashed into his open body and sent him sprawling over the sideline.
Fennelly conceded a free, which Pat Horgan scored, but Lehane had been served notice quickly and forcefully how things are that bit different against Kilkenny.
It was the reaction of the young Midleton man, however, that will have reassured JBM and his cohorts that not only do they have a young player blessed with skill, but they have one with the requisite temperament too.
He got up and moved quickly away from the area of contact, unperturbed by the steamroll impact of Kilkenny's midfield enforcer.
It was reminiscent of Eoin Kelly's reaction to the shuddering collision with Seanie McMahon and Frank Lohan in Tipperary's 2001 Munster semi-final win over Clare at the same venue, the game in which he announced his arrival as a championship hurler.
Sweetnam and Lehane are not alone in injecting fresh impetus. William Egan has been around for a few seasons now but had close to his best ever Cork game last Sunday, Jamie Coughlan is also pressing hard for permanent inclusion while Stephen McDonnell is ensuring that Eoin Cadogan's days at full-back are really at an end.
Waiting in the wings, 19-year-old Damien Cahalane, looks the greater long-term prospect for full-back with Ross Cashman a real prospect across the half-back line.
The average age of the team that started against Kilkenny last Sunday was 24. Take out Donal Og Cusack and Sean Og O hAilpin and it drops to 23.
Yet in infusing younger players into his team, JBM has been fair and diplomatic in his dealings with those players who formed the core of the 2004 and 2005 All-Ireland winning teams.
Cloyne could never win Cusack the honour through a county title, but the first opportunity he got, JBM chose Cusack as captain, which was a statement in itself.
Even last Sunday he was selected despite making a couple of critical and untypical errors that accelerated Galway's drive to the finish.
If the management were considering a change of goalkeeper, this was their chance. But Cusack repaid the faith with a solid display against Kilkenny.
O hAilpin has been given time, too, and his restoration to half-back saw a marked improvement against Kilkenny.
Ben O'Connor had been a first-choice selection in the opening two games before he came to his decision two weeks ago to retire while John Gardiner, whipped off in the Dublin game after struggling to contain Danny Sutcliffe, still started the next day against Galway.
JBM admitted at the beginning of the season how shocked he was at the change in preparations since his departure in 2000.
Cork's performances so far are testament to ability to refresh and re-educate.