IT’S A BEAUTIFUL Saturday evening down by the Lee and Dr Con Murphy sidles over to me on the sideline before his beloved Cork face Offaly in the second round of the All-Ireland hurling qualifiers.
“We’ll not have it easy this evening you know”, he says.
And after five minutes of Newstalk’s coverage, it becomes clear Con isn’t the only man feeling on edge on the Cork bench.
Jimmy Barry Murphy might look like the coolest man in the GAA (and that’s because he is, in all senses of the word) but against Offaly it became clear from an early stage he wasn’t happy.
I know being on the sideline for these games is a privilege, and it’d be remiss of me not to study the various demeanors of the managers I’ve seen over the last two summers. Brian Cody is more animated than I thought he’d be, Anthony Daly puffs his chest out and looks he’d do anything to be out there playing… Davy Fitz very nearly IS out there playing. So I was interested to see what JBM would be like.
First of all – he looks like he could still do a job in the Cork full-forward line, the handsome bastard. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly (if I were a Cork player, I wouldn’t look to the sideline after a mistake – a disapproving glance from JBM could send a man to the seminary). Thirdly – he didn’t give out about the referee once, as if he existed on a higher plane altogether and that’s an attitude I would like to see become general.
And when the time came for me to grab him post-match for a quick word, his first words were for a really impressive Offaly showing that only really faded in the last 10 minutes. So he is a class act, even if many of us watching on Saturday evening remained unconvinced his team is capable of challenging for an All-Ireland just yet.
But of course the post-mortems all took place in a different world entirely to the one we now find ourselves in – the sort of world that sees Galway beat Kilkenny by ten points in the Leinster hurling final. Death, taxes, and Kilkenny as Leinster hurling champions. They were the only certainties in the old world. Now as far as I’m concerned Mick Wallace was right, I’m buying a cryotherapy chamber like Walt Disney, and Galway (we’re not even IN Leinster, for God’s sake) hold the Bob O’Keeffe trophy.
It was a truly stunning display by Galway, built on the sheer physicality and belief they brought to Croke Park on Sunday. Tactically they got it right too, but no switch or sideline brainwave could compete with the sight of Jonny Coen walking through Eoin Larkin for a shortcut. Joe Canning and Tony Og Regan did something similar in that extraordinary first half hour and at half-time they led by the barely believable scoreline of 2-12 to 0-4.
So many discussions around stopping Kilkenny revolve around the puck-out but Galway didn’t take one til the 19th minute. Not one! So you can plan all you like but you have to be able to blast them out of the way physically. It’s what Tipperary did in 2009 and 2010, and it’s what Galway did yesterday.
Of course we should be down on our knees thanking Kilkenny for making hurling both the ultimate test of skill (which it always was), and now a game more physical than gaelic football. On days like yesterday, when you get two teams able to play it both ways, it’s the most breathless spectacle in world sport.
I should also mention I had cause to meet Dr Con Murphy again this weekend, on Sunday afternoon, as Cork cantered to a win over Clare in the Munster football final, and a chat with Dr Con down the road will mean I’ll always be happy to cover Cork in either code. However, there is one dark cloud on that particular horizon because for every Dr Con, there’s that idiot in the Cork sombrero who was about to ruin my post-match interview with Conor Counihan, until (presumably) he realized there was no television camera in sight.
He promptly decamped to the presentation area, bizarrely, where Michael Shields had the good grace to look embarrassed to be from the same county as him as he was receiving the trophy. Regular readers of this column may remember this pet hate of mine, but I will continue to abuse him until he is completely ignored by every TV director in this country. I feel like the little Dutch boy in the finger of the dyke, keeping the tidal wave of media coverage from overwhelming us all.
This week Murph was – delighted to see Galway captain Fergal Moore finally get another all-time career highlight to put with the unmerciful cleaning he gave me as a wing-back in the Connacht Colleges First Year A championship final in 1996. I was playing for Jarlaths, he was playing for Mary’s of Galway, and after yesterday I’m now finally prepared to forgive him for that most public of humiliations.
“When Galway trounce Kilkenny and win a Leinster title, you sit back and appreciate just what they have done.”