Looking after needs of players was key for Cork hurling legend Tough Barry

Despite not having a background in GAA, Barry led Rebels to glory
Looking after needs of players was key for Cork hurling legend Tough Barry

William 'Bowler Walsh', Christy Ring and Jim 'Tough' Barry celebrate one of the four in a row All-Ireland wins for Cork hurlers in the 1940s

DURING the build-up to the 1943 All-Ireland hurling final, newspaper reports suggested that Antrim, surprise victors over Kilkenny in the semis, had a secret weapon which they would employ to defeat Cork.

When he gathered his players around him for their first training session before the game, Jim 'Tough' Barry was unequivocal.

“Now we don’t know what the secret weapon is, but the only weapon we have is hurling, and fitness, and this is what we are going to produce.”

His confidence was well-founded.

Antrim were subsequently devoured by 5-16 to 0-4.

The victorious Cork All-Ireland team of 1943 with the late St Finbarr's legend Tom Mulcahy second from the right in the front row. Christy Ring is on his left, while on his right is Din Joe Buckley. Also in the picture are Mick Kennefick, Jim Tough Barry, Paddy O'Donovan, Con Murphy, Dr Jim Young and Willie Murphy.
The victorious Cork All-Ireland team of 1943 with the late St Finbarr's legend Tom Mulcahy second from the right in the front row. Christy Ring is on his left, while on his right is Din Joe Buckley. Also in the picture are Mick Kennefick, Jim Tough Barry, Paddy O'Donovan, Con Murphy, Dr Jim Young and Willie Murphy.

The following year, Dublin provided the opposition, the last barrier to the historic four-in-a-row.

On the morning of the final, the journalist Carbery met Barry and found him relaxed and confident.

“My lads are good and very good — an obedient, honest lot of boys who did everything I told them. We’ll win alright.”

The final score was 2-13 to 1-2.

If anybody could judge when a team was ready, it was Barry.

Between 1926 and 1966, he trained 12 Cork teams to All-Ireland titles and co-trained another two.

After Cork were knocked out early in 1934, Limerick enlisted his services and they won an All-Ireland too.

“Jim was not a learned man, but he had a natural intelligence and he was a very practical psychologist,” said Eamonn Young, a member of the All-Ireland winning football team of 1945.

“He knew if there was anything wrong with you and that’s where his charitable disposition came into play.

“He radiated a benevolent personality. He loved people. I remember him saying to me, ‘I look on all of ye as my sons’.”

His record was all the more remarkable because here was a man with no inter-county pedigree of his own.

He hurled for Blackrock in his youth, but it was as a swimmer and an amateur boxer that he’d enjoyed his best days as an athlete.

You don’t have to be a greyhound to train greyhounds,” was his standard response to questions about his own lack of experience at the highest level.

A Washington Street tailor by profession, the always impeccably turned out Barry got involved with Cork in 1926 as an assistant to Packey Mahony.

When Mahony finished up three years later, Barry took over. Although never granted a formal say in the selection of teams, his opinions gained considerable weight over time.

The job specification may have been to get the players fit, but his interpretation of the role went way beyond those parameters.

“Not only did he not play but I also wouldn’t ascribe to Jim a very in-depth knowledge of all the aspects of hurling,” said Jack Lynch in an interview with Mick Dunne on RTÉ Radio.

“He had a tremendous ability to bring out the best in the team he was training. He used to do everything.

“When the training session started, he would go down to the Park to make sure the grass was cut. If it wasn’t he would kick up holy murder! He’d make sure the jerseys were washed and the towels were washed.

“After matches, win or lose, he’d always make sure that the team were sitting down to a good meal and he wouldn’t let anybody interfere.”

PLAYER WELFARE

To Barry, the welfare of his squad was paramount.

If a work situation was interfering with a player’s ability to train or prepare for a big game, he would visit the office or factory, most often seeking out the top man to plead the case of his charge.

An extremely generous individual, he’d dip into his own pocket regularly to help out anybody on the Cork scene who might have been short a few bob for whatever reason.

“He was a very sound judge of how to get a team right for the big day,” said former GAA President Con Murphy, a Cork hurler for 10 years under Barry.

“He wasn’t in the least tough, in the sense of being a hard taskmaster.

“The secret of his success was the way he managed to gain the affection and respect of the players under his charge.

“He’d know when a player had done enough and he’d tell them not to bother training that night. In the week of a match, we’d finish up with his talk to us on a Tuesday or Wednesday night and then he’d tell us not to catch the hurley again until Sunday.

“He always wanted us to keep our appetite fresh.”

During the 12-year famine after Cork’s All-Ireland win of 1954, Barry’s methods came under critical scrutiny from a public starved of success.

The most famous adage he contributed to GAA lore was the classic, 'Cork teams are like mushrooms, the come up overnight'.

In 1966, the hurlers came from nowhere to lift Liam McCarthy in the sweetest of triumphs. The old warhorse proved right again.

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