TWELVE years later, the story continues, Jimmy Barry-Murphy returns to Croke Park with a Cork hurling team seeking to travel the penultimate mile on their road to redemption.
Defeat by Offaly in the summer of 2000 marked the final chapter in the last success story of a team under the managerial baton of the Cork icon. The previous year he had led the Rebels out of the wilderness to secure a glorious All-Ireland triumph against Kilkenny on a never-to-be-forgotten September Sunday at headquarters.
But that was then and this is now and next Sunday he takes another Cork team littered with players from the younger generation back to a much changed venue, one, however, that remains a field of dreams for every GAA player in the country.
Given how Galway demolished unbackable favourites Kilkenny in the Leinster final a few weeks ago, might lead one to believe that Cork are only travelling to make up the numbers.
But when a Cork team plies its trade in the month of August the message is, more times than not, beware of the team wearing red.
The Cork manager is under no illusions about this contest, it’s going to take an almighty effort to get past what is potentially the best team in the country right now. So is there an echo of ‘99 about this crew, a largely inexperienced team on the prowl of great things again?
“No, I don’t think it’s similar to ‘99 at all and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think it has any relevance at all. We have a number of young players but we have also got a number of very experienced players so there’s a difference in that respect.
“And I think that we are coming in through the qualifiers is different as well and that we had to re-group after the Tipperary defeat. The qualifiers gave us a chance to do that and maybe gave the players a bit of confidence after that defeat.
“I think that showed in the last 15 minutes against Waterford when the substitutes were brought in, that was a big factor and that has been acknowledged.’’
Sunday’s game marks Cork’s return to Croke Park for the first championship outing since the 2010 All Ireland semi-final demolition by Kilkenny, and going back to ‘08 they were also skinned by the Cats in headquarters in the last four — advantage Galway maybe?
“Obviously, and the fact that their Leinster final display against Kilkenny was absolutely sensational really. We would rather have gone the direct route as well, no one likes to lose a Munster championship game but the fact that we have re-grouped under the qualifier system certainly has been of benefit to the panel.
“A number of players who were on the panel but who hadn’t played and were disappointed have got a chance now and have shown that they have a lot to offer, so it has been encouraging that way.”
Watching Galway do to Kilkenny what the Cats had done to so many others, competing with them on an even keel in the physical stakes certainly made the Cork boss sit up and take notice.
“Watching it on the day and since, they were incredibly intense and they are a very physical team obviously. I think they are showing the benefit of their U21 success of the past few years and their minors too, something that we haven’t had.
“Anthony Cunningham has done a fantastic job in bringing these players in and winning Leinster was, obviously, a fantastic achievement.”
Not for the first time in that remarkable match, Joe Canning stole the show and no doubt he figures largely in the Cork plan for next Sunday.
“He’d have to, let’s be honest, he’s a fantastic player and he looks in tremendous shape, much fitter than he was, maybe the injuries of the past few years didn’t allow him to get as fit as he’d have liked and it’s going to be a huge task in trying to counter him on Sunday.”
Another aspect of that Galway provincial triumph was their flying start, blitzing Kilkenny early on and effectively closing the deal before half-time.
“I suppose they’ll try something similar against us, every team tries to get a good start. We tried it against Waterford and we started very well which we were delighted about and maybe we didn’t take as many opportunities that were presented on the day.
“I suppose you’d have to say that the Leinster final was similar to our defeat in the League final in that Galway absolutely blitzed Kilkenny early on, the same as that happened to us against Kilkenny.
“I think when you concede scores like that as much as you do it undermines the whole team and it’s impossible really to come back from that and at this level you don’t come back.’’
Being in the last four in the chase for the McCarthy Cup might be something that has exceeded some expectations for the team but the Cork boss does not agree.
“I wouldn’t agree that it has exceeded expectations. Early on we were hopeful that we’d develop over the course of the year and, while we have beaten Offaly, Wexford and Waterford, we felt we were on a par with those teams anyway and that we had a chance of beating them.
“We were particularly pleased to beat Waterford and the manner of the victory was probably better than the performance, to come from three points down with seven or eight minutes to go was very pleasing.
“The bookmakers’ odds make us the fourth ranked of the four semi-finalists, that is a fair assessment. All you can go on is what you see and we know we have a road to go to match these teams and we have a bit to go to match Galway’s performance in the Leinster final.’’
With little or no club activity taking place at the present time, the training ground becomes a place of immense importance in selecting the team, according to Barry Murphy.
“Absolutely, take Stephen McDonnell, he was very disappointed to be left out after the league final defeat, no question about that and maybe some people felt we were a bit hard on him.
“That’s the job we have to do, pick the team, and in relation to his attitude in training and his performances in training matches as well put him back into the reckoning.
“That is why we picked him the last day, he was showing form in training and I would like to think that we are picking players who are showing form in training.
“That was the case too with Seán Óg, he played in an A V B match last Sunday week and he was outstanding and we simply had no choice but to pick him because of his form.
“These players coming in have a point to prove and we are trying to juggle it around as best we can and we’ll chop and change when we see fit and we’ll pick certain players for certain jobs.’’
Training form is key to picking the Cork team