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JBM: 'To have done that in hurling and football was a dream come true'

Jimmy Barry-Murphy reflects on the 1986 All-Ireland final in an extract from ‘Cork Hurling: Game Of My Life’.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

CORK GREAT JIMMY Barry-Murphy enjoyed a glorious playing career that featured success in both hurling and football. 

In the following extract from ‘Cork Hurling: Game Of My Life’, he reflects on the 1986 All-Ireland final win over Galway.

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I think it gradually came on me during 1986 that it would be my last year.

I was finding it hard to motivate myself, the toll of playing for a good few years was hitting. I was tired from it, mentally more than anything else.

I was relatively young, 32, but I’d been playing minor with Cork since 1971 and senior football from 1973-80. I’m not making excuses, but it just all took a toll.

The decision to concentrate on hurling after 1980 was a difficult one but, being selfish, Kerry were after becoming dominant and, I’m not going to tell lies, hurling looked to be a better prospect. I did feel that I had let the footballers down but it was a call that I had to make for myself.

I hated leaving the footballers and I often regretted the decision but it just wasn’t physically possible to keep going with both. I’d played eight years of senior football and both together since 1975, which was hard going.

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In 1986, we beat Clare in Killarney in the Munster final. It was a very good game and it was my tenth Munster medal – I didn’t realise it at the time but I was equalling a record that John Doyle had held. I only read about it later but it’s something nice to look back on.

We had a good team, so we didn’t consider ourselves outsiders in the All-Ireland final against Galway, but I think most people did. We thought we had a great chance but they shocked a super Kilkenny team in Thurles whereas we struggled to beat Antrim. The mantle of favouritism was always going to go on Galway and that suited us.

We were struggling with injuries. John Hodgins was out and so was Dermot McCurtain; John Fenton was carrying an injury but, thank God, he started. Then you had a new breed of player coming through – Denis Walsh came into the team that year and he had an outstanding game at left half-back. Kieran Kingston came on and got a vital score. It was Teddy McCarthy’s first final, too – he had been on the fringes of the team all year and missed the semi-final but he was brought in for the final and played very well.

I had been in the half-forward in the 1970s but from 1983 on, I was almost always in the full-forward line. My game had changed in that I wasn’t doing as much running – not that I ever did a lot, anyway! – but full-forward was my favourite position. I had some great players around me and that always makes it easier.

jimmy-barry-murphysylvie-linnane Jimmy Barry-Murphy in action for Cork against Galway. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

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I found that I got more nervous ahead of big games as I came to the end of my career. Obviously, playing in a lot of finals means you’re familiar with the rhythms of the weekend and the day itself but it doesn’t make it any easier. The nerves are stronger as you get older. I didn’t have a care in the world playing in my first few finals, it didn’t faze me at all!

I always enjoyed the greyhounds and going to Shelbourne Park on the Saturday night had become part of the routine. A few of the lads – Ger Cunningham, Tomás Mul, Kevin Hennessy – used to come with me to pass away a few hours, back to the hotel and bed early. A few other lads used to go to the cinema – players need to have some distraction. Later, when I was manager, we used to do something together, the whole group would go to a show or something.

Sunday morning always felt drawn-out. You’re up early for your breakfast but then you’re hanging around for a few hours. Cork were playing in the minor final that year and we watched a good bit of that in the hotel before we left – unfortunately, they were beaten that day by Offaly.

jimmy-barry-murphy-and-tomas-mulcahy Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Tomas Mulcahy. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

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Sylvie Linnane was marking me. Conor Hayes was in the full-back line as well and I thought it might have been him, but Conor played in the right corner. I found that Galway were a great team and Cyril Farrell was an absolutely brilliant manager. He was ahead of his time, really, he was very innovative and tried different tactics. He and Galway got their reward when they won in 1987 and ’88 – I got to know him properly later and he was an absolute gentleman.

One of their tactical innovations was to go with a third midfielder against Kilkenny and we weren’t sure what to do if they tried that again against us. Ultimately, they did and the decision was that Johnny Crowley would stay in the corner and it proved to be the right one. He was absolutely brilliant in the role and ended up getting man of the match – though we always slag him about winning the award for marking nobody!

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We got a 21-yard free early on and John Fenton took everybody by surprise by going for it and burying it. It really took Galway by surprise and gave us the confidence that we needed. Then Kevin got a brilliant goal soon after and that gave us a great cushion.

We led for much of the game but we were still never fully sure of the victory. We were up by six and they got a goal to bring it back to three again but then Denis Walsh won a brilliant ball and passed it to me and I got the insurance point. That was a fantastic feeling, I knew we were there then. I had decided to pack up by then, so it was a nice way to go out.

I had great friends on the team and we were all so close for many years. I was great friends with Johnny Clifford and Jimmy Brohan, who was a selector, and Dónal O’Grady was a selector that year too, having played with us in 1984.

When I started off with the Barrs, I was only thinking about playing senior hurling and football for the club, that was my only ambition. But then, that graduates to playing minor for Cork and playing on the senior team.

To have done that in hurling and football was a dream come true.

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Cork Hurling: Game Of My Life is written by Denis Hurley and published by Hero Books. More information available here.

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