Thursday 23 January 2020

Colm Keys: Second coming is second nature for the Rebels' man for all eras

Cork manager Jimmy Barry Murphy is adamant that Cork will always produce top-quality hurlers
Cork manager Jimmy Barry Murphy is adamant that Cork will always produce top-quality hurlers
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Second comings for managers in hurling have the potential to be messy. Not always, as Cyril Farrell's return to Galway in the mid-1980s illustrated, but retracing steps can be difficult.

Would Donal O'Grady like to wind back the clock on his most recent spell in Limerick?

How did 'Babs' Keating feel about his return to Tipperary after leading them from the wilderness in the late 1980s?

Should Michael Bond have left 'well enough alone' when he returned to Offaly in 2001 after guiding them to the 1998 All-Ireland title, having joined them just 10 weeks earlier when Keating departed?

And then there is Jimmy Barry-Murphy.

Declare

Deep into a third season since his return as Cork's hurling guardian after a 12-year absence, JBM would be too reticent to declare his latest innings a success. But others can make those declarations on his behalf.

Given their starting point and the distance Cork had fallen since their previous All-Ireland title in 2006, relativity must be factored in.

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Cork hurling is a very stable environment now, the personality of their guiding hand as much a factor as the skills within the team.

He has weathered every storm and risen to ride every bump on the road. From high-profile player and coaching departures to undercurrents about training methods, there has been no shortage of negative vibes over the last two and a half years.

But on the cusp of a third successive All-Ireland semi-final it is a second coming that has made an indelible mark. What greeted their first Munster title in eight years merely reinforced that.

Barry-Murphy hurled through an era when Cork were omnipresent on Munster final day and omnipresent on the podium afterwards.

But nothing prepared him for what they experienced in Pairc Ui Chaoimh after beating Limerick the last day.

"I was lucky enough to be part of Cork teams that won two five-in-a-rows in Munster," recalled Cork's most iconic dual star. "I don't remember the occasions being like they were in Pairc Ui Chaoimh the last day. Or like when Limerick beat us last year.

"I didn't remember anything like that when we won but it just shows what it means to people nowadays.

"Of course the media exposure of the games is fantastic, and the present Cork team has great support behind it. Young people have got behind the team again, and you saw what it was like after the game.

"I was thrilled to be a part of that. I was absolutely over the moon. I can play it down all I like now, but winning the Munster title was fantastic for us. It was a huge occasion and I got a fantastic kick out of it."

Dismantling one third of a team which came within seconds of winning an All-Ireland title the previous September took conviction on behalf of the management. But it also took hurlers.

Premise

Barry-Murphy has based his three-year stewardship on a very simple premise - that there are always hurlers in Cork, something he has stressed repeatedly.

The team's transformation has helped to back up the point he continues to make.

"Sometimes I say things and I don't be thinking too much about them!" he said when the consistency of those remarks were put to him.

"But I did feel that. The lack of underage success has been bandied about. We've got some very good hurlers out of the underage system, like Christopher Joyce and Alan Cadogan. All these lads played at underage level for Cork, even though they hadn't been successful.

"I firmly believe you don't need to be winning All-Ireland minor or U-21 titles to be a really good county.

"Clare has one of the best U-21 teams right now that I've ever seen in my life," he acknowledged.

"But I don't think for a second we wouldn't be able to compete with them at senior level next year.

"All those players don't come through to play at senior level for Clare either. I think that's a very relevant point."

His faith in Cork is iron-cast. For a while after last year's All-Ireland final replay defeat, though, he wondered if they would get a better chance.

Their form during the league didn't ease his concerns that they had left something behind.

"No disrespect to the teams we were playing but our form was very, very poor. It was very difficult to put our finger on it and I wasn't accepting this hangover factor from the All-Ireland final," he explained.

"Having lost it, I thought that we would be even hungrier to lash teams in Division 1B and sail out.

"But that wasn't the case. We were up in Ballycastle and were two points down against Antrim. That type of situation was happening from game to game.

"From the players' point of view, they were finding it hard to motivate themselves after the All-Ireland final and that seems to be the factor."

Irrespective of the outcome, he sees a very bright future for Cork hurling.

He has always traded on positivity, notably keeping his counsel on the furore over the hurling penalty that constantly drew his goalkeeper Anthony Nash into the debate when privately his views may have been different.

"I like to build up my own team, encourage them to be positive, to enjoy the experience. For us going to Croke Park to play Tipperary, it's a phenomenal occasion and I wouldn't see any negative factors in that whatsoever.

"We're in a very healthy position now in Cork. I couldn't be happier with the progress made.

"I'm very excited about the future of the team. I'd be very pleased that, despite the lack of success at underage level, we've got the very best players coming out of that system and they're coming in to a panel with players that are strong.

"I'd be very happy that we're in a good position and we will be for years."

Irish Independent

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