Rejuvenated Cork determined to take shortcut to success
Jimmy Barry-Murphy eager to ensure his young side don't let big occasion overawe them, writes Cliona Foley
CRITICS of the back door may argue that it has devalued the provincial finals, but try telling Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy that ahead of Sunday's novel-looking Munster SHC decider against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds.
Not only is he preparing his young side mentally to embrace the white-hot atmosphere of one of the greatest occasions in Irish sport, but he has also stressed how it offers them a great shortcut to glory.
"There's massive incentive there to qualify for an All-Ireland semi-final on August 18," the legendary dual star (pictured) stresses.
"It plans out your whole year really and there's a great chance to get a break until then. You might have players injured and that'll get them back into the frame, and it'll also give you a chance to look at the opposition, so there is huge incentive there for both ourselves and Limerick.
"It's also brilliant to be part of the occasion again too.
"Before we played Clare, we told the players that the Munster final, same as the Leinster final... these are still big, big occasions. The build-up is phenomenal and it's exciting to be back part of it."
His side may have come within a point of Tipp last summer and reached the All-Ireland semi-finals, but they took a lot of flak this year for getting relegated to Division 1B after a play-off with Clare.
They wiped the slate clean by beating the Banner in Munster to set up a fascinating sideline battle with his former St Finbarr's and Cork team-mate John Allen.
Limerick manager Allen led Cork to their last All-Ireland (2005) and Munster (2006) titles but Barry-Murphy quickly sidesteps how he's handling that.
"It's not the first time and it doesn't worry me who's in charge of other counties, I'm purely concerned with Cork," he says. "Both teams know each other reasonably well, so I don't think it really matters who the manager is."
He also discounts the relevance of Cork's relegation.
"The fact that Limerick have been in Division 1B for the last two years means they haven't got the same publicity, but I've always maintained, even in the years when we were in Division 2, that it doesn't make that much difference at all," Barry-Murphy says.
"It's exaggerated what that does. You can actually regroup very well and that's been shown this summer by Limerick and Dublin."
He admits to feeling Cork have been cursed this season due to a litany of injuries.
Paudie O'Sullivan is out for the year with a broken leg and they lost their most experienced defender Brian Murphy to a shoulder injury just a week ago, but Pa Cronin is back after a bout of pneumonia and Lorcan McLoughlin (shoulder) could play some part on Sunday.
Both teams are in a similar position, with many of their young players making a Munster final debut, but Barry-Murphy feels that the Gaelic Grounds will be worth some scores to their opponents.
"I always think home advantage is fierce important, and they're going to have a huge following, though I think we'll have a fabulous following as well," he says.
"There's phenomenal interest around Cork, even when you win one game. It just shows, with one bound, you're free nearly," he quips. "A lot of people are in watching training and that gives the players a buzz, it's new to some of them.
"The public seemed to respond to the way we played, but whether we can reproduce that now, that's the question.
"The key to such a massive occasion is preparing them to be mentally ready for that. You want them to look forward to the occasion, but you want to make sure too it doesn't pass them by or overawe them, that's the thing with young players.
"We played a league final last year and I felt it passed us by early on, we were caught cold even on the sideline by Kilkenny. We weren't ready for the mental challenge, so that's something we've worked on.
"We haven't had underage success but a lot of our younger players like Christopher Joyce, Jamie Coughlan, Conor Lehane, Luke O'Farrell... they're all starting to develop.
"Our minors lost a great game to Waterford and didn't make the Munster final but they have two players – Pa O'Callaghan from Ballyhea and Michael Cahalane from Bandon – who look very exciting prospects and we think there's lots of young talent coming through in Cork."