Jimmy Barry-Murphy ‘amazed by the progress Cork have made’

Jimmy Barry-Murphy feels the open spaces of Croke Park should suit the Cork team’s pacy, “thrilling” style in this weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final clash with Waterford.

The Cork icon is hoping for an “open, free-flowing game” this Sunday: “The Cork style of play is great to watch, from a supporter’s point of view. It’s thrilling. 

“I think it suits our players, that kind of style, they revel in it. It’s also very structured, it’s not wild or hare-brained at all, but what’s really struck me about the way Cork are playing is the pace of the team. 

“And that’s why going to play now in Croke Park is so exciting — it should suit our young players, given the liberty to play there, the space that Croke Park provides, an open game would really suit us and I certainly hope the game develops into an open free-flowing game.

“Obviously Waterford will try to disrupt our pace, because the pace Cork are showing everywhere on the field has been a huge help, and I hope that playing in Croke Park will help boost our progress.”

Barry-Murphy, who managed Cork to All-Ireland success in 1999 and to the All-
Ireland final in 2013, admits freely he didn’t anticipate Cork’s success this year.

“I’m surprised by how well we’ve done — I didn’t see it coming this soon. I knew we had made progress but I
honestly didn’t see us coming through Munster like we did. It looked a very tough draw in Munster and in all honesty, I was worried for them against Tipperary.

“I’m amazed by the progress they’ve made in such a short time, because last year was a struggle for them.

“Looking at my own experience in management, that first year is always a huge learning curve for everyone, and I’d say the lads learned enormously from that and have made massive progress in the meantime.”

Casual comparisons have been made between this edition of Cork and the 1999 side Barry-Murphy managed.

“The likes of Mark Coleman, Luke Meade, Shane Kingston, and Darragh Fitzgibbon have been fantastic in the championship, but if you go back to our time, in 1998-1999 the players we brought in had had a lot of success at colleges and underage levels, they had won All-Irelands at minor and U21. These new players haven’t had that success, so it’s been a pleasant surprise to see that progress.

“Some of them are only 19, so it’s extraordinary to see their fitness and pace. That’s the benefit of training in with the group, obviously, and brought them on.

“That pace is the most noticeable thing, obviously. If you look at Waterford they’re a very good combination team, good defensively, and they play a game that suits them. I don’t know how Waterford will play on Sunday, but I presume they won’t want to end up in a shoot-out like the last day, given Cork’s forward power. Cork need space to play that game, though, and I hope they get that space.”

The former dual star says the current success has its basis in hard work, which some may not appreciate: “We saw the Cork U17s win an All-Ireland title last weekend in Croke Park and the minors have been terrific as well this year, all the great work being done by Denis Ring and others over the years is coming to fruition now.

“The U21s had a very good campaign and were unlucky not to win the Munster championship, given the injuries and suspensions they had to deal with.

“It’s extraordinary in one sense, but it’s not a matter of a magic wand either. It’s the culmination of years of hard work, work that I and others didn’t appreciate, maybe, when we were saying ‘it’s a struggle’.

“But we always maintained that even when our minors were being beaten, the pick of those teams — the likes of Mark Coleman, Shane Kingston, Darragh Fitzgibbon, and Luke Meade — were very good players.

“We’ve also seen players
improve — I’m delighted for the likes of Damien Cahalane, who got a lot of stick for a couple of years but he took a while to adjust to inter-county hurling, having come across from football. He’s been a
revelation this year.

“Another guy I have to mention is Colm Spillane. We had him in a couple of years ago when I was manager, and Ger Cunningham was always saying what a good player he was going to be, but he was very unfortunate with injuries — it’s a great tribute to him to come back, and to the medical team in the work they put into him. The full-back line as a whole has been fantastic this year, and I hope that continues.”

Barry-Murphy gives huge credit for that progress to Kieran Kingston and his management team.

“When I left a couple of years ago, it didn’t look in great shape, in fairness, and the aim is always to leave it in a better place for the next man in. The younger players weren’t coming through that time, it was just a couple of years too soon for them, but what Kieran (Kingston) and his management team have done is outstanding. What they’ve done is amazing. I’m not going to tell lies, I didn’t see it coming. It’s been a huge boost to everyone. The new Páirc Ui Chaoimh is part of that, it’s great, but that’ll find its own path. The success of the underage teams is a huge part of the positivity as well, I’m thrilled about that.

“The same thing has to happen in football. That’s a cause for worry, but that’s another day’s work.”

Barry-Murphy says Croke Park should suit Cork’s growing confidence: “I think a team can grow, certainly, in confidence as the year goes on. People are probably comparing it to the young team we had in 1999, but they forget we’d won the national league the year before, we had some experience of contesting at a high level. It wasn’t overnight.

“This year has been overnight. The first round against Tipperary was the key game to me because up to last Sunday I thought they were serious contenders for the All-Ireland — and they were last weekend too — so to beat them was huge.

“Now, there were initial worries that day as well, there were a couple of goal chances given away early on, but we seem to have stopped that now. A young team thrives on success. Going to Croke Park will suit them absolutely. Young, confident Cork players generally do well in Croke Park, and I’d be hoping that continues.”

The pressure is on the side in white and blue this weekend, Barry-Murphy adds.

“I’d have an awful lot of respect for (Waterford manager) Derek McGrath, he was there when I was involved with Cork, and to be fair to them, they’ve made massive progress. The difficulty Waterford have found is converting their underage success into senior success. I know Derek’s concentrated on the championship, which is why Sunday is such a massive day for them; I think there’s more pressure on them this Sunday than on Cork, in many ways.

“It’s Waterford’s third semi-final in a row, whereas with Cork there’s a sense of building for the future rather than winning an All-Ireland this year — although I hope Cork can. In that sense there’s more pressure on Waterford to do it this year.”

What they’ve done is amazing. I’m not going to tell lies, I didn’t see it coming


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