Lunchtime Friday there was a 25th anniversary celebration of the senior double won by the Leesiders in 1990, and over the day-and-a-half following the county’s development squad teams racked up an impressive seven titles at various age levels.
Then Jimmy Barry-Murphy announced his resignation as the county’s senior hurling manager: The past, the future and the present, all intersecting on the same news cycle, jammed together as though a bad novelist was trying to plot his way out of writer’s block.
Well, break it down. Leave the past to the past, and the future will be here soon enough anyway.
The departure of Barry-Murphy was the headline event because it leaves Cork without an obvious successor, as the county departed the All-Ireland series after another hockeying, and because, of course, it was Jimmy Barry-Murphy who departed.
JBM: The initials suffice.
It’s difficult to take a step back and evaluate Barry-Murphy’s management of Cork objectively because of the protection offered by one of the greatest careers in the history of the GAA, not to mention the effortless charisma which has made the man from St Finbarr’s one of the icons of Irish sport.
For instance, when Donal Óg Cusack strafed those involved in Cork hurling from a TV studio some weeks ago, he clearly kept the gunsights away from Barry-Murphy, while all summer long, pundits and journalists spoke in vague terms about Cork’s need for tactical sophistication rather than indicting the manager on the same charge.
Barbs of criticism don’t make it all the way to Valhalla.
Would criticism have been justified? Barry-Murphy took over as Cork manager for the second time in 2012 and had to make adjustments on the fly. He told Cusack and Sean Óg Ó hAilpín their time was up, tough conversations with players he’d nursed as minors 17 years earlier. Immortals such as Ben O’Connor retired midway through that first season, while a potential superstar like Darren Sweetnam opted for rugby.
In comparison with his first period as Cork manager, Barry-Murphy didn’t have one of the best underage crops in the county’s history to draw upon, but on his watch Cork reached two Munster finals, winning one; they made it to two league finals, losing both, as well as an All-Ireland final which they led deep in injury time (extraordinarily deep in injury time, according to some of the Cork 40-somethings now keening for their departed hero) before going down to defeat in the replay.
A golden age, in relative terms.
Mistakes? Cork’s lack of a sweeper for much of the summer looks less outlandish now, given the way Galway and Tipperary went toe to toe in their All-Ireland semi-final, but the men in red were left dangerously light on defensive cover when Christopher Joyce and Lorcan McLoughlin were injured. Only the management will know if more could have been done to keep William Egan and Eoin Cadogan interested in hurling.
The incoming boss will also be conscious of Cork being dominated physically by Galway in Thurles; strength and conditioning will be high on the agenda for the Cork squad this autumn.
That’s all for another day, though. For now the jokes about middle-aged Corkmen in search of counselling because of Saturday night’s news are funny because they’re funny, but also because they’re true. Barry-Murphy’s quality as a player meant he served as a constant trump card in good-natured slagging about different stars from different counties; his name won as many victories in pub and office arguments as he himself did on the field of play.
His style and skill, not to mention an uncanny ability to score significant goals, set him apart early on, and he became for many of us, in the ’70s and ’80s, a kind of Platonic ideal of a GAA star. Classy and aware, he maintained those qualities as a manager, whether sympathising with a journalist on a bereavement just after losing the All-Ireland, calling to show support for the striking Vita Cortex workers, or thanking the Cork supporters for following the team in tough economic times.
That doesn’t exclude iron behind the velvet. The hard conversations with Cusack and Ó hAilpín would have sounded familiar, for instance, to some of the men at that double lunch last Friday in Cork; in Barry-Murphy’s first seasons as Cork manager there were similar discussions, all with a similar result — departure.
Yet his teams all performed in his image. Playing in the right spirit. Maintaining a tradition. We recently noted that Eamon O’Shea’s Tipperary teams had played in the best tradition of that county, and how important that is. Barry-Murphy’s greatest contribution may have been maintaining that tradition in Cork at a difficult time in the county, preserving that continuity — and then walking away, putting the onus on those remaining to carry that tradition on.
A Freudian analyst would probably make hay with those Corkonians getting so torn up about the departure of their childhood idol, but in his resignation statement, Barry-Murphy pointed them in the right direction.
The future. The seven titles won over the weekend, and creating more anniversaries. He created enough of them himself.
The 1999 All-Ireland-winning captain coached the side this year and as a consequence is familiar with the players and modern playing styles.
Another player from the 1999 Cork side, Ryan has enjoyed plenty of club success with Sarsfields but is short on inter-county experience.
All-Ireland winner as well and good coaching experience from Cork IT, but is it too soon for him?
Was interim manager briefly before Denis Walsh took over and is well regarded as a coach.
Would bring expert coaching and All-Ireland-winning experience to the table.