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JBM leaves Cork with his reputation intact

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Jimmy Barry Murphy has 'displayed flair, class and devil-may-care panache without ever giving the impression of untoward egotism'

Jimmy Barry Murphy has 'displayed flair, class and devil-may-care panache without ever giving the impression of untoward egotism'

SPORTSFILE

Jimmy Barry Murphy has 'displayed flair, class and devil-may-care panache without ever giving the impression of untoward egotism'

We always speak well of the dead, both the literal and metaphorical varieties, in this country. But there was something genuine about the note of admiration which marked the obsequies for Jimmy Barry-Murphy's inter-county career last week.

That's because ever since the St Finbarrs man burst on the scene as a teenage skinhead, rattling in two goals for Cork in the 1973 All-Ireland football final, he displayed flair, class and devil-may-care panache without ever giving the impression of untoward egotism.

It was an almost impossible feat to pull off but JBM specialised in the impossible. And, though it might not seem like it now, I think his second spell as Cork hurling manager will come to be seen as one of his finest achievements. The chalice he was handed wasn't just poisoned, it had acid smeared on the outside, yet he managed to restore some of the old faith and confidence to a depressed and divided following.

The team he steered to the 2013 All-Ireland final were as limited a bunch as have ever taken the field for Cork hurlers in September, yet had Brian Gavin finished the game at the right time they would have been All-Ireland champions. Getting a Munster title out of the same players in 2014 was another signal achievement, and one which suggested that the structural problems in Cork hurling might not be so serious after all.

But the subsequent defeat by Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final and this year's disastrous campaign showed that even Barry-Murphy couldn't defeat sporting logic as years of underage underachievement came home to roost for Cork against opponents who simply didn't fear the Rebels anymore.

It's sad to think that Barry-Murphy's last involvement with Cork at inter-county level may have been the diabolical display against Galway in July. He could have played it safe and rested on the laurels gained when managing the 1999 All-Ireland winning side but the man was never one to shirk a challenge. His second appointment was, like his move to centre half-forward late in the 1976 All-Ireland final against Wexford, an attempt to remedy a desperate situation. Back then he hit three points to get Cork home. This time round he couldn't work the oracle.

Nevertheless he leaves with honour intact. JBM always had a special place in the heart of Cork fans because he seemed to epitomise certain qualities they prized as intrinsic to their hurling team: confidence, grace, coolness, the ability to be streetwise without being mean, the desire to always do things with a bit of style and the nous to know the difference between arrogance and conceit.

He had it all.

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