What forward line can afford to be without Henry Shefflin, a fully-fit and on-fire Richie Power, Michael Rice and Aidan Fogarty?
Take all of those together and what forward line can afford to be without four such outstanding attackers?
I bow to no-one in my admiration for this Kilkenny team with the hurling ethic and attitude that has been built on and reinforced so well during the Cody dynasty. They’ll take to the field in Thurles tomorrow and they’ll expect to win. Driven on by that magnificent defence and midfield, they’ll try to make light of the loss of all those marquee forwards and do their damnedest to impose their will on Cork.
But even this Kilkenny team surely can’t cope with such a massive injury deficit. Even this Kilkenny team surely has limits. Make no mistake, the mighty Cats are hurting.
Then we come to Cork. I confess I wasn’t convinced Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s appointment as manager after an 11-year hiatus was a good thing for Cork. That’s a long time away from the top level and by his own admission the game had moved on considerably while he was gone. Tactically especially; by his own admission also, Jimmy was never the most tactically-minded manager. And yet, without question, he has lifted Cork hurling, he has brought Cork back to the top table.
How? By being Jimmy Barry-Murphy, that’s all. He’s an icon, no question. A name that resonates far beyond Cork, a walking, talking living legend. But that’s not the real Barry-Murphy.
Jimmy is as ordinary a guy as you’ll ever meet. There’s an aura, yes, and there’s true grace, but there are no airs, no pretensions. He’s modest and humble but not to the point where it’s grating or false. He knows his weaknesses but he also knows his strengths, and he works on both.
Finally, he’s smart; I don’t just mean intelligent (and he is), I mean he’s alert.
During his first tenure he learned a lot as the years went by; he has retained that knowledge and added to it. He has again surrounded himself with good people, strong people. He has again delegated work he feels others would do better than himself, not an ounce of ego in sight. But he has kept the big job for himself, the managerial job, and his mark is all over this team.
Cork are playing without fear. They are playing with an eye for the opening. They are playing with consummate skill and athleticism. Their backs are fast, forceful, first to the ball at every opportunity. The midfield is powerful and omnipresent.
Ah but, the forwards. This is now a Cork attack that carries threat everywhere – they’ll take holding tomorrow.
In summary, Cork are not yet the complete package, still learning, but Kilkenny aren’t the complete package tomorrow either, still hurting.
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