Wednesday 21 February 2018

Martin Breheny: JBM cutting through the nonsense on Planet Punditry

Cork's victory over Clare rubbishes quality of 'analysis' from some hurlers on the ditch

Jimmy Barry-Murphy gestures to his players during Sunday’s win over Clare.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy gestures to his players during Sunday’s win over Clare.
A banner showing some Cork supporters' support of manager Jimmy Barry Murphy
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

IF you wrote away for a serene, measured sportsperson, not given to melodramatic outbursts or exaggerated reaction, you would get Jimmy Barry-Murphy back by return of post.

Thus has it always been, from his days as a dual star with Cork to his first stint as county hurling manager (1996-2000), which experienced some barren times before an All-Ireland title was secured in his fourth season.

Even in his moment of triumph after Cork won the 1999 final, when he was invited to react to the suggestion that "everyone wrote ye off," he responded by pointing out calmly that there were solid grounds for predicting a Kilkenny win.

JBM trades in the balanced view, one that has been intelligently informed by a lifetime in sport as a player, manager and observer.

So, when he describes something as "a load of rubbish" minutes after Cork's victory in a Munster semi-final, it's as close to being animated as he gets. Clearly, something had riled him.


"There's a huge emphasis among people in the media and people locally about the fitness and the strength and conditioning and I think it's a load of rubbish to be honest with you," he said, before going on to praise the role of Dave Matthews, who is largely responsible for the physical training of the Cork squad.

JBM knew the score. If Cork had lost, immediate bombing would have followed. Claims that his Rebel innocents abroad were too light, too naive and totally unprepared for the hell that Clare unleashed would have clattered down on him. It would also be pointed out conspiratorially that now we knew the real reason why Eoin Cadogan and Damien Cahalane had chosen football over hurling.

Even some of their own were shelling Camp Cork before they headed for the Gaelic Grounds. JBM opened his papers on Sunday morning to see Sean Og O hAilpin, whose senior championship career he launched as a 19-year-old in 1996, lowering the blades.

Sean Og's main grouse was that John Gardiner was no longer on the panel, apparently callously ignored in favour of men with no names. Sean Og described his clubmate's absence as "ridiculous," before going on to show a somewhat incomplete knowledge of Cork GAA geography by saying: "there's guys there being called in from places I never heard of."

It's probably safe to assume that if Cork lost last Sunday, Sean Og would have been happy to further elaborate on why Gardiner should have been on the team ahead of some of the lads from God-knows-where. He did neither himself nor Gardiner any favours with his carping on the morning of a Munster semi-final.

He did, however, further fuel suspicions that some of the Cork crew of the 1999-2004-2005 All-Ireland-winning teams saw their role, not as keepers of the flame, but as outright owners of the jerseys, who would decide when they vacated them and who would wear them afterwards.

Sean Og wasn't the only one who had doubts about the Cork set-up going into last Sunday's game, which brings me to a modern-day phenomenon of sports punditry.

Much of it is straight from the boil-in-the-bag range, easy to cook, low in nourishment and high in tasteless additives. It's largely informed solely by the most recent developments, suggesting a short memory is no particular obstacle to basing a judgment.

Cork were supposedly ripe for a plucking because (a) they had been relegated from Division 1A (B) they had lost three times to Clare this year and (c) Clare had beaten Waterford by eight points.

However, that ignored the fact that 1A (six teams) is more a glorified round-robin than a real league, so relegation is not such a dark stain. Besides, Clare beat Cork by just two points in the play-off. Also, Cork were league finalists and All-Ireland semi-finalists last year, having lost by a point to Tipperary in the Munster semi-final. Why such little faith in them this summer?

More boil-in-the-bag nonsense centred on Waterford, who were accused of not being fit enough to go the full distance with Clare. Waterford were just four points behind Clare heading into stoppage time after shooting 15 wides, a failing which was scarcely down to a lack of fitness.

Clare were praised for the success of their rigid game plan against Waterford because they won, but criticised for it last Sunday because they lost. In other words, winning always equates to good tactics, losing to bad ones.

It's the ultimate in spoof, but is doing a thriving trade in Planet Punditry these days, especially in broadcast land. What was that word JBM used? Ah yes – rubbish.

Irish Independent

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