[caption id="attachment_69884" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Managers Jerry Wallace (Antrim), Anthony Cunningham (Galway), Anthony Daly (Dublin) and Jimmy Barry-Murphy (Cork) at the launch on Monday of this year’s NHL."][/caption]
One tends to associate intercounty managerial changes more with Gaelic football than hurling. But when the 2012 National Hurling League campaigns gets under way next weekend nine of the 12 top level hurling counties will have new managers: Jimmy Barry-Murphy (Cork), Davy Fitzgerald (Clare), John Allen (Limerick), Michael Ryan (Waterford), Anthony Cunningham (Galway), Ollie Baker (Offaly), Liam Dunne (Wexford), Jerry Wallace (Antrim) and Teddy McCarthy in Laois.
Most focus will probably be on Barry-Murphy, who returns to the Cork job after a 12-year absence. He has always been popular in Cork whether as a footballer or a hurler, but in his first term in charge of the hurlers from 1996 to 2000, Cork won only one All-Ireland senior hurling title and that was probably not enough for Cork supporters reared on success. In the intervening years Cork has won only two All-Ireland finals, the last in 2005.
Since then they have had two major disputes which led to players refusing to play under former manager Gerald McCarthy. Denis Walsh brought peace to the camp for the past two years, but no real success and so the Cork County Board coaxed Barry-Murphy to return.
He seems to have done all the right things since he took over. He recalled Seán Og O hAilpin, for instance, who had sensationally been dropped by Walsh and made long-serving goalkeeper Donal Og Cusack the team captain. On Saturday night Cork play Waterford under the floodlights at Pairc Ui Rinn. Barry-Murphy said: ‘‘We have 30 players in training at the moment; the young fellas are all very keen, aware that there are places up for grabs on the panel.’’
Barry-Murphy reckons that the high level of modern training is shortening players’ intercounty careers. ‘‘ It’s totally different from my day and I presume that can only be the reason for a lot of players opting out in various counties recently. I was never inside a gym until I finished playing and that’s the truth,’’ said Jimmy.
Also on Saturday another Cork native John Allen will take charge of Limerick for the first time in a League game. Allen takes over from Donal O’Grady, another Corkman, who did a decent job rebuilding morale in Limerick after a disastrous spell under Justin McCarthy, who incidentally is also a Corkman. In the opposing dug out at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday night will the energetic Davy Fitzgerald, who will be making his League debut as manager of his native Clare. Then on Sunday there is a repeat of the 2011 All-Ireland hurling final when Kilkenny meet Tipperary at Nowlan Park. Five of the Cats squad have retired over the winter months: James Fitzpatrick, Eddie Brennan, P. J Ryan, Michael Kavanagh and John Dalton, but they should still have too much power for a Tipp side, who will be without recently retired Lar Corbett. Also in division one on Sunday reigning League champions Dublin make the first defence of their title when they travel to Salthill to play Galway.
Italy is next up for Declan Kidney’s team when they visit the Aviva Stadium on Saturday next where there is a 1.30 p.m. kick off. While we have never lost to Italy in the Six Nations, the Italians have proved to be a difficult nut to crack in recent years.
Italy are rugged and normally put it up to Ireland for at least 70 of the 80 minutes. Last year it took a late drop goal from Ronan O’Gara to clinch a 13-11 win in Rome. In their first game in the championship this year Italy had England worried in the snow in Rome for long periods, before eventually losing 19-15. Ireland need to improve from the performance against Wales and maybe in hindsight it was no harm that the game in Paris was postponed as it gave coach Declan Kidney and his backroom team more time to work on the team’s faults.
So Ireland to win and maybe O’Gara to come on as sub for Johnny Sexton and kick the winning drop goal.
MAYO/DUBS FOR MARCH 31
Mayo’s National Football League game against Dublin will now be played at McHale Park, on Saturday March 31. The original game on Feb. 11 had to be abandoned at half-time due to heavy fog in Castlebar. Dublin are appealing the red card handed out to wing back James McCarthy, who appeared to have been harshly sent off that night by Sligo referee Marty Duffy.
NEW SWANS DEAL
English Premier League side Swansea City have given a new improved contract to their County Antrim born manager Brendan Rodgers. The 39-year-old Rodgers, who previously managed Watford and Reading, has done very well since taking charge of the Swans in July 2010. He led them into the Premier League where they have gained a reputation for playing exciting football. He has now signed a three and half year contract.
Meanwhile Michael O’Neill, the new Northern Ireland manager, has gone for a Scot as his assistant. Former Scottish midfielder Billy McKinlay, who is first team coach with Fulham, will be O’Neill’s assistant. McKinlay will continue to work with Fulham and link up with Northern Ireland for international games.
BEST KIN TAKE
The family of George Best have launched legal proceedings against Alex Best to try and prevent George’s second wife from selling some of his memorabilia at auction in England today. Among the items due to go under the hammer at Bonham Auctioneers in Chester are an old passport and the two famous red-leather bound “This is Your Life” books from 1971 and 1993 episodes of the TV show. The Freedom of Castlereagh, which Best received in 2002, is also listed in the catalogue, as well as a signed autobiography, leather jackets, and limited edition trainers signed by the soccer legend. George’s brother-in -law Norman McNarry said the family had been hurt by Alex Best’s decision to sell the memorabilia and they claim that the items belong to the footballer’s estate and his ex-wife cannot legally sell them. Best died in November 2005, aged 59.
WILL BEGIN NEXT YEAR
Redevelopment work on Casement Park, Belfast is expected to begin at the end of 2013 and should be completed by September 2015. The new all-seater stadium will have a capacity of 40,000 with 80 per cent of the seating covered and 2,000 of them premium seats. The money for the project will come from the Northern Ireland Assembly who are providing €61.4 million, with the GAA contributing €15 million. Turning the stadium into an all-seater is a major undertaking as the stadium in its present guise is predominantly terraced.
DEATH OF KIERAN FINLAY
The death occurred of former Monaghan senior footballer Kieran “Jap” Finlay. His haul of 1-9 for Monaghan against Donegal in the 1979 Ulster final was a record that stood for over 20 years. His son Paul Finlay is a currently a member of the Monaghan senior football team.