JOHN ALLEN does not believe he will ever get the opportunity to manage Cork again.
The former All-Ireland winning boss, who will lead Limerick out against his native county this weekend, admitted the only way he could manage an inter-county team was to look outside his homeland.
Having left the position in 2006, after losing just one championship match in ten with two All-Ireland final appearances on the resume, he stepped down. At the time it was believed he would return to the post but it never materialised that way.
“It is strange, growing up in Cork, playing for Cork and ending up involved in management [with Cork],” he said. “Your whole life has been built around Cork hurling. I have no doubt I probably wouldn’t be getting the Cork job again too easily, so if I wanted to be involved in inter-county management, you know...”
Allen had taken over from Donal O’Grady, a former team-mate and the man he had served as selector for the previous two years, but when he stepped down Cork County Board appointed Gerald McCarthy to the post. His reign was dogged by player strikes which led to the county’s hurlers and footballers refusing to play for the board.
Allen’s selector Ger Cunningham, who is on the line for Jimmy Barry-Murphy this weekend, had been favourite to take over from him but was not interviewed for the post. Allen and his backroom team had supported the Cork players in their strike action and this may have counted against them.
Given all he has put into Cork hurling, this weekend will bring about mixed feelings for the St Finbarr’s man going up against his former club and county team-mate Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
“It is of course. I live in Cork and I can’t get away from it every day no matter where I go. I’m getting lovely comments from most people who are delighted to know a bit about the game and want to talk about it,” he said before acknowledging he’s also on the receiving end of some banter too, “A bit, but I have a lot of good friends in the Cork management and among the players.”
There was a time when managing a county outside your own might have been seen as some kind of betrayal but not anymore. In football it’s become commonplace while in hurling we had the high-profile encounters between Davy Fitzgerald’s Waterford and his native Clare, though Davy is now back with his home county.
It’s a job, says John, and you do it to the best of your ability regardless of the opposition. “It’s about managing to get the most out of your team on the day — that’s the big thing really. There’ll be a lot of hype before the game. I presume it will be a sell-out and trying to get your team to play the match rather than the occasion is the key for both managers. Both teams are inexperienced so it’s trying to get that right is the big thing. You’ll probably have a good game of hurling because you have two reasonably good teams.”
However, handling that hype in a county that has been shorn Munster SHC silverware since 1996 is a task in itself. Their supporters have endured so much disappointment and heartache over the years there is almost a palpable hunger for this one, so much so that John, on his visits to the county, is getting caught up.
“I’m beginning to gauge it or feel it, I suppose. I spent a few days going around with a promotion for the Féile na nGael to schools and so on.
“You get a good sense of what hurling means here. We had a number of very loyal supporters who went to all the Division 1B games on some very cold days. There’s a great affinity for hurling in Limerick. I never got more texts after a game than I got after the Tipperary game, not even after the All-Ireland final in 2005 — that was the most texts I ever got, and from a cross-section of fans.”
And if Limerick get that win, what will it mean to their manager?
“I was always at pains in Cork to say that I’m the manager and I’m facilitating a lot of people to try and do their best, be that the management or the players. It’s the Eibhear O’Deas , Eamon Cregans, Joe Hannons, Breda Breens, Liam Lenihans and all those people I have met who are involved in Limerick all their lives.
“This is the result of their work and all of those wonderful players who give up their lives. I am just the conduit through which all this gels. I wouldn’t dream of taking any credit for these players, as good and as dedicated as they are.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved