'I was never inside a gym until I finished playing'
Barry-Murphy fears the demands of modern era are shortening careers
LEGENDARY Cork dual star and returned hurling manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy believes the massive training commitments now being made by players has considerably shortened their inter-county life span.
Speaking after a week that saw the sudden withdrawal of Lar Corbett from the Tipperary panel and Michael Kavanagh and John Dalton become the latest Kilkenny hurlers to retire, Barry-Murphy said he has been shocked by the levels of training that modern-day players are now putting in.
"It's a totally different era from my day and I presume that can only be the reason for a lot of players opting out recently," he said. "I was never inside a gym until I finished playing, that's the truth. But now gym work is a huge part of their preparation and then there's so much as well about diet and hydration."
Barry-Murphy, who managed a young Cork team to All-Ireland victory in 1999, has returned to take charge after a 12-year absence and says that the changes that have taken place in the game over the last decade have taken him by surprise.
"It's unbelievable to me what these lads are putting in nowadays," he said. "I knew they were doing it but it's only when you're back involved yourself that you actually see the intensity that's been brought to preparation in every county, it's extraordinary.
"It certainly shows that the time span of a playing career now is not as long as it was in my time."
Cork suffered some retirements themselves last winter, most notably Ronan Curran and Jerry O'Connor. However, Barry-Murphy has recalled veteran Sean Og O hAilpin, controversially dropped by his predecessor Denis Walsh last year, and gave him his first start in 18 months in last Sunday's Waterford Crystal Cup semi-final loss to Tipperary.
But Cork's retirement losses are nothing like those suffered by Tyrone's footballers and Kilkenny's hurlers this year, the latter seeing five players, including Eddie Brennan and James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, recently call it quits.
"Kilkenny have put in a good few years on the road and I'd say that some of their fringe players didn't feel like they could still keep making that sacrifice because it is so extraordinary," Barry-Murphy said.
"These fellas are all training five, six, seven nights a week. In fairness, they want to do it, there's no one putting a gun to their heads, but the level of preparation nowadays has gone through the roof."
He believes that putting some fun into training is one way of alleviating stress for modern inter-county players.
"It's very important that there's a bit of fun in the set-up," he said. "You're flogging them fairly hard and there must be a bit of levity in the back-room team as well. Life is tough enough."
Barry-Murphy is certainly delighted after answering the Rebel call again.
"I'm thrilled I got back involved," he said. "I didn't think I'd ever come back but when I was asked, out of the blue, I said I'd do it and I'm enjoying it immensely. We've a lot of work to do but I've a great team around me."
The start of the Allianz League is just two weeks away, with Cork hosting Waterford first up and 'JBM' acknowledges that the new two-tier Division 1 structure leaves little room for error.
"It probably fell our way this year as we've three home games -- Kilkenny, Galway and Waterford -- which are fantastic games to look forward to but it's a very high-class league and you have to hit the ground running," he said.
"After Waterford we have a break before Dublin in Croke Park and getting to play there, at this stage of the season, is a major bonus for our fellas.
"But there's not much room (in the league) for error or experimentation, which worries me slightly. You probably wouldn't want to be trying a few of the younger lads if you weren't completely sure of them. Everyone is going to be very competitive because no one wants to be relegated."
He's been happy to let his college players concentrate on Fitzgibbon Cup duty in recent weeks and has recruited widely, having another look at previous recruits like Brian Corry (Ballymartle) and newcomers like centre-back Ross Cashman (Kilbrittain) and midfielder Darren Sweetnam (Dohenys), the latter still a Leaving Cert student who is a former underage hockey international and who is also a member of the Munster rugby academy.