The two won an All-Ireland together in 1999 and McGrath, now a Cork selector, acknowledges that picking a replacement for Sunday’s clash with Tipperary is a tall order.
“You’re missing your captain and your talisman. Everyone has huge respect for him. He’d be the one guy who’d be the first to back whoever will replace him.
“We have great goalkeepers there. Martin (Coleman) was very unlucky in the league game but he’s trained well since. It’s a huge call. We feel though any of the three can do a job.
“But we’d be stressing beyond the goalkeepers that it’s a panel game. You look at the Tipperary match against Limerick, the impact Shane McGrath and Seamus Callanan had when they came on. They’re all class hurlers and obviously Declan Ryan had them in the right frame of mind when they came on. We’d be hoping the same with the lads that don’t make our team but are in a position to come on. We hope they go into the game with the right attitude.”
McGrath is encouraged by the panel’s attitude since the heavy defeat by Kilkenny in the league final: “Yeah, it has been very good, and that’s easier said than done. We’ve all had bad days when we’ve been substituted. We would make allowances if a guy came in and was in bad form. These are all amateur players. A guy could have a bad day at work and the last thing he wants is for us to be shouting at him on the Monday or Tuesday night. But I can’t emphasise enough that all our lads have been unbelievable.
“The Friday after the Kilkenny match, we got together, Jimmy (Barry-Murphy) had a few words, we went out onto the field and had a really positive training session.”
Are Barry-Murphy’s motivating skills still significant? “I think so. The biggest trump card is the amount of games he played for Cork in both hurling and football. Very few guys in the county can say that. He’s played with hugely successful teams.
“But he’d also make it clear that he has played for bad teams and he has had dark days as a player. He gives the message to players that the way you respond from bad days is a testament to you and the team.
“He was very upbeat after the Kilkenny game. He made it clear that we played one of the best teams in the country. Jimmy has made it clear that in the hurling hierarchy, we are down the ladder.
“Every Cork team that goes out does their best but we haven’t won anything as a county since 2006. That’s six years ago so there must be a message in that. But as a speaker, motivator and manager, Jimmy is second to none.
“He is very clear, though, that on the field, it is the players who must perform. He can’t hold their hand and he gives them the independence.”
McGrath adds that he “wasn’t surprised” by the potency of Kilkenny’s display in the league final.
“Obviously I’ve analysed it hugely myself over the last few years. They blew us away but it could have been anyone doing that to us as we just didn’t click. We led to our own downfall a bit by not performing.
“Kilkenny are a better team than us at the moment. They’re definitely the best team in the land and will go down as one of the greats. All I can say is we’ve responded well since that game. We can’t show the public that as we’ve only been training but we’re pleased at how things have gone and we’re looking forward to the next game.”
McGrath namechecks some encouraging newcomers to the extended panel — Stephen Moylan, Seamus Harnedy, Killian Murphy and Darren McCarthy. Jamie Nagle and Rob White and is upbeat about their contribution: “They’ve been fantastic.”
He’s also upbeat about Sunday. Even Darragh Ó Sé’s recent comments about cold showers in the Páirc Uí Chaoimh dressing rooms get a jab back. “Declan Ryan was well able to look after himself as a player and he’s the same as a manager,” laughs McGrath. “We’ll keep the water in the showers nice and tepid for them.”