Monday 20 November 2017

Safe pair of hands

After a decade of highs and lows, Cork turn to the county's great unifier, writes Colm Keys

Jimmy Barry-Murphy is one of the most popular figures in Cork GAA history
Jimmy Barry-Murphy is one of the most popular figures in Cork GAA history

It is a measure of how far the Cork County Board has come in a short space of time that they have issued two statements in 48 hours governing the appointment of the next senior hurling manager.

In keeping everybody in the picture in an open and transparent fashion, their expediency in just nine days since the appointments committee was officially blessed with the powers to move on who they felt was the best man to lead them forward should please everybody with Cork hurling at heart as much as the identity of the proposed name itself.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy is the great unifier of Cork hurling.

After a decade of extreme highs and lows, Cork have moved for possibly the safest pair of hands available to them.

With momentum growing behind his appointment since it was confirmed that Denis Walsh would not have his term extended, the board felt it best to put his name into the public domain without further delay even if ratification is some time away yet.

It was swift and seamless, winning universal approval from players, board members and supporters alike.

Once it became apparent that he was interested again -- something that never looked likely after his departure in 2000 at the end of his previous five-year stint and subsequent comments he made -- this became a straightforward decision for the seven-man committee.

After the bloodletting of three years ago, when the board pushed Gerald McCarthy through for another year, the manner of this appointment represents a significant step forward for Cork hurling.

Barry-Murphy is one of the most popular figures Cork GAA has ever known.

Ever smiling and courteous, he maintained a dignified silence during each of the three strikes in the last decade, never allowing himself to be drawn into argument that involved so many of the players he had given inter-county debuts to and board officials he would always have had the height of regard for.

Maybe his private thoughts leaned one way instead of another but they were never shared publicly, and for that reason he takes up this position with a clean slate.

But the smiling demeanour should not be mistaken for a lack of a ruthless streak lurking beneath.

He wasn't afraid to show the courage of his convictions in his previous term as manager.

Who can ever forget the reaction to the midweek announcement of the Cork team in advance of their Munster semi-final against Waterford, All-Ireland semi-finalists the previous year?


In naming six debutants -- Donal Og Cusack, Mickey O'Connell, Timmy McCarthy, Ben O'Connor, Neil Ronan, Wayne Sherlock -- Barry-Murphy was effectively told he was signing his own exit papers.

To paraphrase Alan Hansen, Cork were never going to win a Munster title, never mind an All-Ireland with kids.

But Cork prevailed that day and Barry-Murphy was more animated than anyone could ever remember, as the mild-mannered cloak was cast off in Thurles. The kids repaid his faith handsomely.

Within 16 months he was gone, two Munster titles and an All-Ireland sating an appetite that no longer fired him for hurling at this level.

He comes back into inter-county management with Cork at much the same low ebb that he found them in when he took over in late 1995, having guided a very good minor team to All-Ireland glory earlier that year.

You could argue that it's actually worse given the superpower status of Kilkenny and Tipperary which weren't there back in the mid 1990s.

Cork hurling will be no armchair ride for JBM, but he'll have the goodwill of just about everyone and that's not a bad start.

But tough decisions will have to be made, just as they were made in 2006 right up to 2009.

Those few players left that he gave debuts to will end their inter-county careers on his watch and that won't be easy.

Cork have not been producing successful underage teams in recent years, but only last month the U-21s did give some hope for the future by beating Tipperary and then losing an epic battle to Limerick in the Munster final after extra-time, a night when Cork footballer Aidan Walsh underlined his ability and why it is so important for JBM to make the case for dual status there.

The make-up of his backroom team will provoke much interest on Leeside, particularly if Ger Cunningham is (or isn't) involved.

Cunningham looked like the automatic choice when John Allen stepped down in 2006 but the board veered away from a 'boot room' appointment in preference for McCarthy instead.

If the manager/coach template is adopted then Cunningham may well feature and there are prospective names in Paul O'Connor and Sean O'Brien, while the prospect of getting Brian Corcoran involved would add further harmony to a county badly in need of a shot of oxygen.

The history of successful managers coming out of retirement is littered with failure.

Cyril Farrell and Babs Keating could never replicate their finest moments, nor could Ger Loughnane with Galway or Eamonn Cregan with Limerick.

JBM and Cork have a lot of ground to make up.

Irish Independent

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