He doesn’t look it or move like a man approaching his 60s. In fact, watching him hurry across the pitch and you’re reminded of all those years he seemed to glide through defences in both hurling and football, leaving defenders in his wake.
When his team play, you’re reminded of Jimmy Barry-Murphy as well. As was the fashion of the period, shaven-headed, long togs, in 1973 Jimmy was only turned 19 when he played his first All-Ireland senior final, albeit in football. Nerves? Not a bit of it, two nonchalant goals scored in the 3-17 to 2-13 win over Galway. It was actually easier as a youngster.
“Definitely. When I was 19, going up with Cork and seeing all the razzmatazz that goes with it, it was a different time,” he said.
“Obviously the media interest was way less but it was still an All-Ireland and it was huge. But I didn’t feel any fear whatsoever. I loved every minute of it and I’m sure for the young players in every county now, it’s the exact same. You just love it. Bring it on. You can’t get on with it fast enough.
“But the longer you get into your career, I remember playing in my last final [1986, beat Galway] and I was a nervous wreck before the match. I knew I was coming towards the end and that it mightn’t happen again. That is the human factor everyone has to deal with.”
A few years later though, 1994, he was back in Croke Park again with another bunch of youngsters, this time as manager of the Cork minor team. Beaten, he and they would return a year later and there was no denying them. After that, it was promotion to the senior job and four years later, yet again with a team of young colts, he was back.
For many Cork hurling supporters, even the diehards, that against-all-odds All-Ireland win in 1999 counts as one of the sweetest.
Now he’s back in Croke Park again, scene of all those triumphs, and with another team where youth is again to the fore. He had that Midas touch as a player and has it again as manager, but there’s more to all this than a bit of magic. As a player he had innate skills — speed, touch, hand-eye coordination. Likewise as a manager, he has natural man-management skills and a finger on the pulse of the players.
Above all, he has courage. It takes guts to stand in at full or corner-forward in hurling and football and defy some of the toughest men in sport. It takes guts to take on the role of senior hurling manager in a marquee county like Cork and make the tough decisions. To do it then when your reputation was already made at a time when things were already bad and looked like getting worse — that’s the real mark of Jimmy.
Not that he sees it that way himself, dismissing with typical grace the suggestion Cork mightn’t have been the most appealing team to be taking on in 2012. “I mightn’t have been seen as the most appealing person! But you do what you have to do.”
Likewise he dismisses any suggestion of triumphalism over his critics after Cork were relegated this year.
“I don’t feel any sense of vindication or anything like that. I felt through all our league games that we were making excellent progress.
“We’re after bringing in a lot of new young players, some of whom had not played at this level before and they’re adjusting very well to it. Anyone that knows anything about hurling knew we were making progress. How much progress, I’m not sure. We have to win an All-Ireland which is another day’s work but we are certainly back up there competing with every county.”