It was time for a change.
Amid the reverence for Jimmy Barry-Murphy on his departure as Cork manager, a living legend who has given more to his county than anyone could ever dream, that fact cannot be dismissed.
Things had begun to slip under his reign.
The inconsistency in performance this year could hardly be dismissed. Fortunate to reach a league final after Dublin fell asleep at the wheel, they were spanked by Waterford not once but twice in succession.
It was enough for the manager to give coach Mark Landers the go-ahead to transform their set-up. If they couldn’t beat Waterford, they were going to join them. The decision to station Mark Ellis to protect the “D” as a sweeper and bring back Brian Lawton might have been regarded as revolutionary had it been successful or had Waterford not been the first to do it.
For a time, it did reap dividends. In the qualifier against Wexford and then against Clare, Cork showed the necessary discipline to implement the structure.
All the time, though, there was a concern that the style ran against the DNA of Cork hurling.
Cork only trailed by four points at half-time in last month’s All-Ireland quarter-final with Galway but it was enough for Barry-Murphy to jettison the sweeper system.
He had hoped the players would come out of their shell. They did, alright: from a nuclear one, and were obliterated.
By the end, Galway had created over 50 scoring chances.
“Very few of our players played up to the standard that we’d expect from them,” said Barry-Murphy afterwards, leaving nobody in any uncertainty where he felt the responsibility for the loss lay.
We should have known then that he was going to exit stage left, although his cryptic “I can’t wait for next year” threw everyone.
Five weeks on, he departed on his own terms. It was never going to be a case of the county board asking him to step aside.
Barry-Murphy was Teflon in their eyes.
Only this was a season that warranted a post-mortem. For the second successive championship, Cork exited on the back of a double-digit defeat. The only reason Barry-Murphy escaped the same vitriol aimed at Brian Cuthbert was his pedigree. Looked at in the cold light of day, his role should have been up for debate. At least he debated it with himself.
If the bush telegraph is right, Tomás Mulcahy will succeed Barry-Murphy. A couple of days after losing to Waterford in this year’s Munster semi-final, Mulcahy sent his old pal a text telling him to keep his head up.
Their roles could very well be reversed next summer but a change had to come.
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