James Barry brings a clinical, detached view to his duties with Tipperary.
Once a student in UCC, the Upperchurch-Drombane clubman has since found work in Cork and the separation from the hype and well- meaning hindrances last week played no little part in the full-back being able to approach last Sunday’s All-Ireland final with a clear head.
“It’s grand,” he said. “You can go for a coffee on a Saturday morning and no-one even knows the match is on.”
That unencumbered focus has been in evidence post-match as well.
To hear Barry break down the various components that won Tipperary their first All-Ireland title in six years is to suspect he may one day swap a geansai for a bainisteoir’s bib and key to last weekend was ensuring that this would be a dance played to Tipperary’s tune.
All too often, the Premier have found themselves skipping to the beat of Kilkenny’s drum and when they looked back at the tape of the semi-final win against Galway they saw they had again lapsed into the old trap of launching too much high ball in on their target men.
“We kind of knew we couldn’t play Kilkenny at their game,” Barry explained. “We couldn’t just start launching ball up and down the field. We wanted to play the game on our terms, try to give our full-forward line as much good ball as possible.
“Because we knew the three boys inside - Bubbles, John, Seamie — that they’d go to town if we gave them proper ball. It’s up to us to keep the score down at the far end.
“If the boys get enough ball inside, they’d do the damage.”
Barry knows that all too well. He has marked O’Dwyer, McGrath and Callanan enough times in training but, though they rotate at will, it is Callanan he usually picks up. Barry can tell you that when the big full-forward gets the right ball in he is virtually “unmarkable”.
“He’s been nominated for Hurler of the Year the last two years and I presume this year he’ll actually take the final step and get Hurler of the Year.
“It’s fully deserved. He’s been the best marksman in the country over the last few years. Hopefully now this year he’ll get his due reward.”
Delivering the right brand of ball was actually the easy part of the bargain: getting that ball off the Kilkenny forwards was always likely to be the more difficult task.
Barry said so himself and it didn’t take a forensic scientist to identify some clues. When Tipp pored over Kilkenny’s defeat of Galway in the replay they couldn’t help but see the Déise’s two defensive lines were separated by an ocean of space. Michael Ryan didn’t make that mistake with half-backs and even half-forwards swarming back to hook, block and tackle.
Hunger, intensity: call it what you like, but it worked.
This was, after all, a victory backboned by the 2010 U21 side whose successful campaign on the back of the senior All-Ireland that year had prompted talk of a Tipp stranglehold on hurling. The five years of disappointment that followed had everyone honed for this day of days.
“We spoke a lot about it, the hurt,” said Barry. “Some of the boys have lost four finals at Croke Park, so we just spoke about it: that there was no way we wanted to go back and feel the same pain in 2016. Seamie spoke about it at half-time.”
That hurt is spent now: traded in for a belief that Kilkenny no longer have their number.
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