Three big games in the hurling championship again this weekend, two in the qualifiers, but I’m going to start with the Munster final, and the two managers.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy is an icon, not just in Cork. He has done a very good job so far this term, having reached an All-Ireland final last year. But he realised changes needed to be made and he’s done just that. He’s had to deal with a couple of retirements which, in one sense, made his job easier but he also had to make a few big calls. And he made them – though some may not agree with them – which is exactly what you would want from your manager.
In making those calls he was putting Cork hurling first and that’s the mark of this man. Icon he is, but he has no huge ego. He’s as modest a man as you could ever meet.
A very experienced manager, since he took over again a couple of years ago he has taken Cork to five major finals – the league of two years ago, the All-Ireland final and replay of last year, the Munster final last year and now this latest one tomorrow. An impressive record but less impressive is Cork have yet to win a title. However, there can be no questioning the fact Cork have improved and have unearthed new, exciting talent.
I have a soft spot for this man. He’s still the same Jimmy Barry-Murphy he always was. Still open. Still friendly and still absolutely unassuming. He has done something else too in his latest tenure, he has brought this great hurling county back together again and that could be his greatest achievement of all.
In contrast, we have TJ Ryan. The contrast is in terms of experience and his days as a player. TJ was good, honest, versatile but I think he himself would admit he was hardly an icon!
A contrast too in how he’s viewed by his own and, sad to say, there were Limerick people who went to Semple Stadium for the game against Tipperary hoping he would fail. I wonder though, how is he seen now? Remember, this was a Munster champion team but TJ was left to handle a crisis with only weeks to go before the Munster championship. A win tomorrow and maybe he too will have united what has been a divided county.
I was impressed with how he managed those weeks before the Tipperary game, how he has managed since. He knew he had an experienced team, knew also he had a few experienced heads around him and he trusted in them. He didn’t try to reinvent the wheel but just carried on with what had got Limerick that title last year.
He didn’t go to extremes, in anything he said or did either before or after the game, though he must have been extremely nervous on the one hand, and absolutely delighted on the other.
He kept his cool, didn’t panic and it worked. The proof of the pudding was in that win at Semple Stadium.
His big test though, his team’s big test, is coming tomorrow. But they go to Páirc Uí Chaoimh as Munster champions and they go with confidence. Is that confidence justified? Of course it is.
Tipp showed us last Sunday just how good a team they are and how good a team Limerick beat. Also, there’s the motivation. Limerick beat Cork by nine points in last year’s final but people were talking about the red card for Patrick Horgan and the fact Limerick had home advantage.
They have a point to prove here. I expect David Breen to be in the half-forward line and Shane Dowling moving inside. There are a few key battles to relish. Alan Cadogan on Tom Condon, Patrick Horgan on Seamus Hickey, and the battle of all battles, James Ryan on Aidan Walsh at midfield, along with Paul Browne on Daniel Kearney. That area will be key.
Can Limerick do it? Cork have been waiting for this for a year, I think home advantage will swing it their wayafter a massive battle.
Quickly to the two qualifier games. Last week Tipperary got the win they needed against Galway and will be too strong for Offaly, though I hope – I expect – they’ll have a fight on their hands.
At Wexford Park, the pressure is on Wexford. They’re coming off the high of the U21 Leinster final win on Wednesday, it’s their home ground but I think they had their chance in Cusack Park and they blew it. Clare will be more prepared today. Hopefully will have been refreshed rather than flogged during the week because they looked a tired team. They will get another battle though, believe that.
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