Cork were a poor second in last month’s Allianz league final, the 1-24 to 0-17 hammering at the hands of this Sunday’s opponents, Waterford, raising doubts over the team’s ability to deliver at the business end of competition. The defeat was a near carbon copy of last August’s All-Ireland semi-final crushing to Tipperary.
“It is [a worry they didn’t play in the league final], and that has been a factor over the last couple of years,” admitted the Cork hurling boss.
“There has been an element of inconsistency with the team. They have given us some great days, no doubt about it. But some of the performances have been well under-par and that was a particularly poor performance against Waterford.
“It was a final, like Croke Park last year, you don’t like having those days because it undermines the team, it undermines the backroom team and you wonder are you making the right moves, are you picking the right players and all those recriminations start in your own head, and the players too, I am sure. We have tried to address it as best we can.”
Responding to suggestions that Cork’s “poor” warm-up in Thurles contributed to their disappointing display, Barry-Murphy said such idle speculation has a history of raising its head in the wake of significant defeats.
“I’ve heard all these factors when we lose — I never, ever hear about them when we win. Maybe there is something in it, I don’t know, but I’m quite cynical about that kind of stuff now at this stage. I think it’s more about the mentality of the players on the day.
“It’s a legitimate question to ask because it has been said, but I can’t sense before a game if it’s a particularly good warm-up or not. I don’t know if the Irish rugby team or Irish soccer team or Barcelona know. It always seems to be when we lose that the warm-up was poor.”
Not once did Cork hold the scoreboard initiative during the league final, trailing 0-11 to 0-7 at the break. Barry-Murphy accepts their lethargic openings remain a problem.
“All our best performances have come when we have been at the pitch of the game early on, for example Clare last year, Kilkenny in the quarter-final and Dublin in the semi-final in 2013.
“We are a funny team. When we are really at it very early on, we are very, very hard to beat. When we start slow and lethargic, we are a very average team. That is something we are trying to address all the time.
“The lads were very down in training after the league final defeat. We all were. You would have to say the league semi-final performance didn’t warrant the result so from that point of view we were going into the league final to put on a big display. Tactically, you could say we got it wrong on the sideline in relation to our preparation for the final. The system Waterford are playing suits them. Derek McGrath has done a fantastic job. We have a big gap to bridge to beat them.”
The Rebels failed deplorably in attempting to negate the Déise’s counter-attacking system last time out and management will adopt a much different approach this weekend.
“I think we will have to set up differently,” said Barry-Murphy. “Waterford were better than we thought they would be. We were a lot worse than I thought we would be. We have to address why we were so flat on the day and why the vast majority of our players didn’t play anywhere near the potential we feel they are capable of. That is something we have looked at. I hope you will see a different team on Sunday.”
Achieving redemption and keeping alive their Munster title defence are the obvious motivating factors ahead of Cork’s return to Thurles; Barry-Murphy also warns of the implications of defeat.
“The qualifiers are a minefield. We found that they are to be avoided if you can. I am sure Waterford are looking at the game the same way we are — that a victory gets you into the Munster final and a place in the All-Ireland quarter-final at least. Championship form dictates everything, really. We lost a relegation match to Clare two years ago but we had a fantastic season after.
“The league isn’t what we’re interested in. It’s championship form that’ll tell if we’ve made progress or not.”