Huge positivity about quality Cork hurling appointments but the JBM situation is puzzling

Huge positivity about quality Cork hurling appointments but the JBM situation is puzzling
Former Cork manager Jimmy Barry Murphy in conversation with Donal Óg Cusack. Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

THERE’S no denying the calibre of the appointments to the key positions in Cork hurling.

Kieran Kingston, Pat Ryan, and Donal Óg Cusack are big names on their own right and included in the backroom teams at minor, U20, and senior are Ger Cunningham, Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, Wayne Sherlock, and Tom Kenny. Some of the most respected Rebel hurlers of the past 30-odd years.

Kenny is shy of 40 but that group would make a serious backbone for a GAA masters selection.

Cunningham linking up with Kingston is a welcome step as he has the pedigree to be Cork senior bainisteoir himself. His stint in Dublin was a disappointment admittedly, but the former goalkeeper has an in-depth knowledge of the Cork scene through his ongoing involvement with UCC in the Fitzgibbon Cup and the fact he has two teenage sons hurling with the Barrs.

Indeed Cunningham was looking after the full-back line and the keeper with the Blues’ U16 outfit that defeated Ballincollig in last weekend’s P1 final, where his son Ben gave an exhibition of free-taking and ball-winning. 

You’d expect Cunningham junior will be in the plans of Cusack and the minors selectors in 2020, along with Barrs’ centre-forward William Buckley and midfielder Ben O’Connor.

Ben Cunningham, St Finbarr's, in action against Ballincollig. Picture: Larry Cummins.
Ben Cunningham, St Finbarr's, in action against Ballincollig. Picture: Larry Cummins.

That pair are still U15 but Buckley’s haul of 0-6 from play was sublime and O’Connor has a ferocious engine.

There’s no doubt that learning from Donal Óg, Seán Óg and Tom Kenny will improve whoever make next year’s minor squad.

Former senior selector Donal O’Mahony, who was an All-Ireland winning minor keeper and a Bishopstown stalwart, and Imokilly boss Fergal Condon add serious depth to the U20 set-up. O’Mahony has overseen Christians’ transformation into a Harty Cup powerhouse which is particularly relevant now the age has dropped from U21.

Condon might have a wealth of talent at his disposal in the East Cork division, but his ability to blend them together and create a successful culture shouldn’t be underestimated. Rasper, as he’s known in Aghada and beyond, was also involved with Denis Ring and the U20 group that lost this year’s All-Ireland deciders and that experience will stand to him.

Ring and his selectors came very close to All-Ireland glory, reaching three successive finals. Pat Ryan and co have to at least match that.

Yet for all the positivity about the quality of the new management teams, there is a major question mark about the treatment of Jimmy Barry-Murphy.

JBM had been lined up to take over the minors with Ben O’Connor by his side. While Barry-Murphy had been out of the inter-county scene for a few years since he vacated the top job in 2015, his return was a statement of intent from the county board.

A suitably box-office draw with a major task on his hands: bringing a bit of Cork swagger back to the youngest team in Rebel red and ideally bridging a gap to the 2001 All-Ireland triumph.

Of course, the flipside of opting for a marquee appointment was that this season’s U16 coach Jamie Wall, who has excelled with Mary I in the Fitzgibbon Cup, and U15 manager Noel Furlong were out of the loop.

Providing a link between the development squads and the minors would seem essential and the indication is the new minor management of Donal Óg Cusack, Tom Kenny and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín will have another selector involved under that remit.

In a perfect scenario that would be Wall, but you can appreciate his frustration at being overlooked.

The sticking point over JBM’s return to a position he excelled in back in the mid-90s was the one-term on offer. A strange situation considering Kieran Kingston and co sought and got a three-year deal, ala Ronan McCarthy with the footballers, to guarantee stability and continuity.

Minor is different, as players move up, but Barry-Murphy and O’Connor were reasoning that a number of this year’s Cork U15s would end up being two-year county minors.

Furlong, with ex-senior trainer Seanie McGrath and Niall McCarthy included, is U16 manager for two years, with a view to progressing in time. A sensible call. 

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