Declan Carr’s heard that one more times than he cares to remember. A member of the last team to claim the Dan Breen Cup in 1990, as the last bastion of the club’s success he is a reminder of how long they have languished in mediocrity.
However, he’s noticing some green-shoots. In their championship group this summer, they finished second to Kilruane McDonaghs with two wins from three games.
Cathal Barrett is their first representative on the Tipperary panel since Carr, but the 1991 All-Ireland winning captain senses he is an indication of what’s to come. “It’s been way too long for any club to go. What I would see in the club now is a young group coming through and Cathal is the elder statesman. It’s a good batch, highly skilled and motivated. There would be nobody happier than me if he could become the next man from Holycross to win an All-Ireland medal.”
Barrett is the kind of exception that needed to show his younger colleagues the way. He’s never lacked the belief. Two years ago, he tweeted to the GAA’s Higher Education official account: “Hey, just wondering what date the Fitzgibbon Cup All Stars are being handed out?? just making sure I’ll be around to collect it?”
After seeing off Pat Horgan in the All-Ireland semi-final, he was asked if he watched the previous weekend’s Kilkenny-Limerick game. “No,” he smiled. “I was asleep!”
That, according to his Limerick IT coach Pat Bennett, was Barrett in essence. “He’d be fierce laid back. There wouldn’t be much excited about him. He would never have a problem getting his mind right for a game.
“His temperament was always spot on. Cocky without being cocky. He has such a belief that he can give it everything and that will be enough to outhurl anyone. The big thing for me was it didn’t make a difference who he was up against in training, Joe Canning or Seamus Callanan, or in a game. He was going to hurl them himself. He has savage belief in his capabilities. It didn’t matter who was put in front of him. He’s the most dogged hurler. He’s never finished. He’s a great guy in a dressing room too, a bubbly fella with a wicked sense of humour. You’d always be hopping balls against him but he’d be throwing them back at you.”
Carr had Barrett as a minor in the club. His language in describing the 21-year-old is similar to Bennett’s. “His potential was always there. Very few players attack the ball with the same vigour as Cathal. You could see that as far back as when he was 14 or 15, that if he kept his head he would make it. His character matches his game. There’s a swagger about him. He’s cocky without being arrogant. He’s happy-go-lucky but you sense this confidence. He wouldn’t be confident to the point that it would piss you off. He’s very likeable.”
Carr was heartened if not surprised when he saw how well Barrett performed in the league final on Henry Shefflin. Not only did he better Horgan last month but Walter Walsh was neutralised in the drawn final. It made up for a blip or two earlier in the summer. “He lost his way a bit during the Championship when he started moving up the field a bit, was taking shots and he wasn’t that successful,” recalls Carr. “When he’s playing to his strengths in a position where he is best, which he is doing at the minute, he’s difficult to beat.”
Barrett is currently readying himself for a masters in Dublin after earning a degree in renewable and electrical energy systems in Limerick IT. His time with Davy Fitzgerald didn’t coincide with a Fitzgibbon Cup title but some of his performances stood out, like this year’s extra-time quarter-final defeat to WIT in Waterford. They were beaten by a point in the end but it didn’t sully Barrett’s performance. “He was outstanding that day,” says Bennett. “We held them to six points against the wind in the first-half. We kept them out and kept them out and he was exceptional. His commitment was huge. He had played all the league games and you wouldn’t have to go looking for him. When the county fellas were gone, he was still there. You knew he was going to be outstanding once he got his act together. You can see how much he’s improved in strength and conditioning. He had been slight but he’s put on a good bit of muscle.”
Carr smiles when he considers how sides have gone out to try and expose Barrett who only made his senior debut earlier this year. John Power appears to be the latest to try his hand this evening.
“I wouldn’t ever set out a team to target him because it could be thrown right back in your face,” maintains Carr. “He’d thrive on the idea the other team thinks he might be a weak link because of his age.”