Legend proving doubters wrong by doing it 'his way'
JIMMY Barry-Murphy has probably long forgotten about it but a comment he made 11 years ago has an uncanny resonance now.
"Cork teams, I think, seem to have a knack of winning finals in special years," he said in an interview for Colm Keane's book 'Hurling's Top 20' in 2002.
He was referring specifically to the GAA's Centenary All-Ireland final in 1984 where Cork beat Offaly in a game played in Thurles to honour the town's unique role in the Association's history.
"Every county wanted to win the Centenary final," he said.
Of course, all counties want to win the title every year, but there are occasions when local dynamics drive demand higher than usual.
Kilkenny in 2000 (they had lost the previous two finals) and 2006 (they were supposed to have fallen well behind Cork) and Tipperary in 2010 (their determination to stop Kilkenny winning five-in-a-row was almost manic) are specific examples since the turn of the Millennium, while numerous other examples abound from previous decades.
An initial glance would not locate a specific reason why 2013 comes under the 'special year' heading for Cork, but a peep below the surface shows a completely different scenario.
In fact, there are those in Cork who regard this final as one of the most special of all. Much of that has to do with Barry-Murphy himself and the culture he has created in a county riven with factions, especially over the last 11 years.
Twice in less than three months, his decision-making has been publicly challenged by two players whose careers ended under his watch. In a newspaper interview on the day of the Munster semi-final clash with Clare, Sean Og O hAilpin was cutting in his assessment of why his club-mate John Gardiner was not on the Cork panel.
Sean Og also appeared to have some difficulty with club geography in Cork as he talked of players on the panel from places he hadn't heard of.
This week, Gardiner himself spoke of how he felt hard done by over not being on the panel. The irony is that it was JBM who brought O hAilpin back on the panel after Denis Walsh had omitted him and that he also gave Gardiner every opportunity to claim a place. Ultimately though, it didn't work out for either of the Na Piarsaigh men.
JBM's decision to omit Donal Og Cusack from the squad early in the year didn't go down well with certain factions in Cork either. Indeed, around that time there was a less than subtle whispering campaign going on, which effectively asserted that JBM was old-school and that Cork were destined for mediocrity under his second coming.
Much was of made of Eoin Cadogan's decision to opt for football rather than hurling, with the inference being that his decision was based on the superior set-up in big ball land.
It was a mischievous contention but when Cork hurlers were relegated from Division 1A, it was added to the anti- JBM argument.
Then there was his decision not to bring in a sports psychologist, which was regarded as heresy in an age where bluffers abound. His rationale for that, as he explained in an Irish Independent interview with Vincent Hogan in June, was quite simple.
"I think there are enough of us around the team who have won All-Irelands. Every one of us has won All-Ireland medals, we've all played at the highest level, we've all coached. I think we know enough to get inside the players' heads now," he said of himself and his co-selectors Ger Cunningham, Johnny Crowley, Seanie McGrath and Kieran Kingston.
JBM ignored the negativity which was being pumped into Cork's hurling channels, opting instead to trust the instincts that have served him so well for 40 years of involvement with senior county sides.
It was those instincts that enabled the 19-year-old rookie to squeeze in between three experienced Galway defenders – Jack Cosgrove, Brendan Colleran and Johnny Hughes – and flick the ball to the net in the opening minutes of the 1973 All-Ireland football final.
It was the start of a big-time career, first as a dual player and later as a manager, which has made him one of the most important figures in Cork GAA history. That's quite an accolade in any county but it's backed up by an achievement haul which stands as unquestioned proof of his skills and talents.
Of course, he hasn't been without his critics. When Cork failed to even reach the Munster final in his first three years (1996-98) as manager, it was claimed that he was 'too nice.' The reality was, of course, that Cork weren't good enough at a time when Clare were enjoying their greatest ever run.
All changed in 1999 when he invested heavily in youth, a policy which brought All-Ireland glory to Cork for the first time in nine years. He left at the end of 2000 at the beginning of a decade where turmoil alternated with triumph in a bewildering mix. JBM remained well clear of the various controversies but when the situation reached crisis point in early 2009, arising from a player's strike, he was called in along with former colleagues, Denis Coughlan and John Fenton to find a new manager after Gerald McCarthy's departure.
It was no surprise that JBM was one of the chosen ones. Well respected, as are Coughlan and Fenton, the welfare of Cork hurling was their only concern. There were many in Cork who thought that JBM should have returned as manager at that stage but he clearly didn't believe the time was right. Besides, he could hardly be part of a three-man committee tasked with finding a new manager and then emerge with the job himself.
It was different at the end of 2011 when the vacancy next arose. This time, JBM was ready to return and, less than two years later, is within one win of presiding over Cork's 31st All-Ireland title. Along the way, he has made tough calls, which were rendered all the harder by the perception that quite a few of the strong characters from the previously successful teams felt that not only should they be allowed to decide when their time was up but who should actually replace them.
JBM was never going to tolerate that. The Cork jersey belongs to everybody in the county, something he has always have asserted as a first principle. And while his disposition is mild-mannered and not given to theatrical outbursts, he is strong-willed and self-confident and not easily swayed.
Those traits have stood to him for decades and are now central to Cork's latest attempt to return to the hurling summit.
The Rebels started the year behind Kilkenny, Galway and Tipperary in the All-Ireland betting and dipped further after being relegated. The whispering classes in Cork were pointing in JBM's direction, claiming that while he may not have been working with the best squad the county ever produced, his panel choices, plus general modus operandi, were not helping the cause.
He never wavered in his belief that not only was he doing the right thing by his own beliefs, was also serving Cork's best interests. Most of his critics have now fallen silent, while his supporters pray that he can see the big adventure through to a successful conclusion tomorrow.
Whatever happens, JBM will have done it his way. And if Cork win, it will indeed be a special Leeside triumph on a number of fronts, not least that it was directed by JBM.
The life and times of JBM
Club: St Finbarr's
1971: All-Ireland MH title (aged 17)
1972: All-Ireland MF title (aged 18)
1973: All-Ireland SF title (aged 19 yrs, 1 month); All-Ireland U-21HC title
1973: Played soccer with Cork Celtic for two months
1973, '74: All Star football awards
1974: Munster SF title
1975, '76, '77, '78, '79, '82, '83, '84, '85, '86: Munster SH titles (10)
1976, '77, '78, '84, '86: All-Ireland SH titles (5)
1976, '77, '78, '83, '86: All Star hurling awards (5)
1975, '76, '77, '78: Railway Cup football titles (Munster)
1975, '78: All-Ireland club HC titles (St Finbarr's)
1980: NFL title
1980, '81: All-Ireland club FC titles (St Finbarr's); NHL titles
1995: All-Ireland MH title
1996: First season as Cork senior manager
1999: All-Ireland and Munster titles
2000: Munster title (resigned after All-Ireland semi-final defeat)
2012: Began second stint as manager
2013: Steered Cork to All-Ireland final against Clare