Sunday 26 January 2020

Hennessy backing Barry-Murphy to sweep aside old rivals

Kevin Hennessy during his playing days
Kevin Hennessy during his playing days

Jackie Cahill

As vice-chairman of Midleton GAA club, the reigning Cork senior champions, hurling continues to stir Kevin Hennessy's blood, just like it always has.

And the prospect of a Cork-Tipperary clash at Croke Park is one that fills him with excitement.

Croke Park is fantastic in its own right but Hennessy always loved playing against the old enemy in Thurles.

He said: "I wasn't on it for a long time but there's no pitch like it. The ball bounces true – on other pitches it's like a cricket ball with top spin, unpredictable."

In 1987, Hennessy was captain when Tipp beat Cork in a classic Munster final replay in Killarney. He remembers the outpouring of emotion that greeted Tipperary's win and noted the contrast.

When Cork won it in '84, for example, John Fenton opened the boot of the car and chucked the cup in. Just another one.

Hennessy said: "I loved the Cork and Tipp games – they were the ones."

Hennessy's Cork team-mate John Fitzgibbon, a noted goalscorer, couldn't get up for anyone but Tipp and Kilkenny, he remembers. Canon O'Brien, the former Cork manager, spoke to the players before a Munster final against Limerick and the various lines broke off to speak to each other as collective units.

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Hennessy, the full-forward, was flanked by Fitzgibbon on one side and Barry Egan, a newcomer, on the other.

Egan was nervous, Hennessy sensed, but Fitzgibbon unusually sluggish as they chatted.

Hennessy queried: "What's wrong, John?" "Ah, feck sake, we'll beat these lads by 15 points," came the reply. "He'd be rightly up for Tipperary and Kilkenny – they were the two."

Hennessy gives the current Cork vintage a serious chance of All-Ireland glory this year. Indeed, he thinks the winners of next Sunday's semi-final will lift Liam MacCarthy.

But modern-day trends amuse him, to a large degree. He laughed: "They do more in a warm-up now than they do in a match!

"When I was playing, the warm-up would kill me. I remember a league game against Galway in Athenry. We were in the dressing-room and we heard the 1-10 count from Galway. Jimmy Barry-Murphy was there, blowing into his hands. He put on more than he took off that day!"

Cork had a laissez-faire attitude to league fixtures in those days. Championship was everything. And he's a big fan of his former team-mate JBM, and his handling of a tricky period of transition for Cork hurling.

Hennessy said: "Jimmy is one of the nicest fellas you could ever meet. As vice chairman of the club, I heard a rumour a few weeks ago that there was an A v B game (Cork training) but we were playing senior hurling championship on the Sunday, and we had three fellas on the extended (Cork) panel.

"I rang him to make sure and he said, 'Oh no, we're not using any of the fellas playing weekend'."

Common sense, straight as a die, easy to deal with – that's JBM in Hennessy's eyes. And one of the guys who kept in touch when Hennessy was at his lowest.

There were other people, too. Nickey Brennan, then GAA president, came to see him. Nicky English sent a card on behalf of the Tipperary players that Hennessy hurled against.

Hennessy added: "Those things help you fight it. Look, they give you the heart to keep going and I made a lot of good friends, former players I played against. And your true friends come to the fore then.

"Your health is the most important thing and an experience like that gives you true perspective.

"Life is for living, and that's it. And if you can't play hurling, there's no point in living!

"The game is for playing – fellas pack up too early as well. You know yourself when your time is up."

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