Cork have been through the mill throughout the Allianz National Hurling League this year. From their initial goal of avoiding relegation, which Cork briefly flirted with during the campaign, they forged ahead as they registered wins over Waterford, last year’s League winners Dublin and Sunday’s opponents Kilkenny.
Their seven point win over Tipperary in the semi-final has capped off a courageous campaign and given them a Division 1A final berth against the Cats on Sunday in Semple Stadium. They will be hoping to avenge their defeat to Kilkenny in their last League final encounter a decade ago when they were beaten by a solitary point from Brian Dowling.
Cork’s resurgence can be attributed to Rebel hero Jimmy Barry-Murphy, who led them to their last League success in 1998. Speaking at an Allianz National Hurling Final preview in Croke Park on Tuesday, Barry-Murphy has lauded the efforts of his side and how much a team can benefit from a good run in the League.
“I think the League has been competitive for us”, said Barry-Murphy.
“We played Dublin (at Croke Park) and they won last year’s League. We also played Tipperary, the All-Ireland finalists for the past number of years and learned an awful lot from those games. The previous match against Kilkenny won’t have any bearing on Sunday’s final”
The Cork manager has also been willing to give young up-and-coming players their chance to shine. Conor Lehane, one of the star turns of the Rebel County’s run last year during his Leaving Cert, is again juggling exams with the pressures of the hurling season. Another rising star, Darren Sweetman, is starting his Leaving Cert in three weeks’ time and Barry-Murphy is not worried about the pressure on his young players.
“It’s not an easy time for young lads and we have to balance it with what we want from them. We are very concerned about academic involvement.”
Barry-Murphy is a big supporter of developing hurling skills among his players amid the entire buzz around strength and conditioning in the past number of seasons.
“I don’t want a big huge team full of muscular bodies that can’t play.”
“I want a quick, skilful and athletic team. I’d rather greyhounds than elephants, especially with my background.”
The Rebels boss also gave an update on the injury sustained by goalkeeper Donal Ó Cusack and on whether his captain may consider retirement.
“He will be out for nine months but I don’t see why he can’t be back playing next year. He’s the type of guy who lives for hurling. But he will still have a role to play for the final and for the months ahead. All the players look up to him and he will play a crucial part.”