WHILE Danny Murphy is adamant that Barryroe are underdogs in Saturday’s Co-op Superstore Premier JHC semi-final, he knows too that his side aren’t sailing under the radar anymore.
Barryroe are the surprise packets this season – the team that didn’t win one game in their previous three championship campaigns (played nine, won none, drew two and lost seven) have a 100 percent record this year after topping their group with three wins.
It’s been a dramatic turnaround, but Murphy stresses they have achieved nothing yet. They are staying grounded.
‘What little bit of success we have had this season is down to the players,’ he says – but how has a team that has struggled season after season suddenly found itself in a county semi-final?
‘The players have continued to do what we have done over the last few years but the wheel turns and they are getting the rub of the green now because they have stuck at it and worked hard,’ he says.
Barryroe’s average losing margin in the 2021 and ’22 championships was less than four points per game, and three of those five defeats were by three points or less. They weren’t able to win the tight games, whereas this season they have beaten Ballygarvan by a point (1-21 to 2-19), Kilbrittain by two (1-14 to 2-9) and Milford by two (2-12 to 1-13).
‘We have managed to turn narrow defeats into narrow victories,’ says Murphy, and perhaps the confidence of youth is playing a role here.
Last season Ibane Gaels – an underage amalgamation of Barryroe and Argideen Rangers – won both the Carbery U21A football and hurling finals, both by a point after extra time. Many of those players are involved with the Barryroe hurlers this season, like Sean O’Riordan, Michael Ryan, Tomás Ó Buachalla, James Moloney, Adam McSweeney, Donal Ó Buachalla, Ryan O’Donovan and Olan O’Donovan. They have that winning mentality.
‘Look at the success of our U21s in hurling and football last season, and I think we won six games last year by an aggregate of seven points. They know how to win tight games so to have many of them involved this season is a boost,’ explains Murphy, and two of last year’s U21s have been shooting the lights out this season. Former Cork minor footballer Olan O’Donovan has racked up 4-18 (1-11, 1 65) in three games and his first cousin Ryan O’Donovan has scored 0-9 from play; combined, they have contributed two-thirds of Barryroe’s scores in this campaign.
The O’Donovans combined for 1-13 in the opening group win against Ballygarvan, a match Danny Murphy knows was a game-changer. This is his third year involved with this team and it was his first group win at the seventh attempt thanks to Adam McSweeney’s injury-time match-winning goal.
‘Considering where Ballygarvan were coming from, they had beaten us by ten points in the league in April and went on to win Division 6 of the league, to beat them in our first championship game was huge,’ Murphy explains.
‘It was the one we had targeted so to put up a good performance against a proven team at this level and then get the win, that was the ideal start.’
That gave Barryroe belief and confidence, and they have built on it with wins against Kilbrittain and Milford. Now it’s all about the county semi-final against 2022 Cork JAHC champions Erins Own in Carrigaline on Saturday (5pm). While Barryroe’s perfect group record saw them advance straight to the last four, Erins Own beat Meelin in the quarter-final. Barryroe, busy in hurling and football, took the chance to draw breath by skipping the quarters – is this a help or hindrance given Erins Own have momentum off their quarter-final win?
‘They will go in as strong favourites in most peoples’ eyes, and rightly so when you consider the very strong performance of the previous year’s county junior hurling champions at this grade over the last three years,’ Danny Murphy says.
‘Every year the county junior hurling champion of the previous year has qualified for the final, and has won the final in the last two years.’
That’s a warning to Barryroe, and Murphy himself has experience of heartbreak at this stage of a county championship. He was a starter on the club’s last team that reached the last four of an adult county championship back in 2010; they lost to Ballygarvan after extra time of a replay. It’s taken 13 years for Barryroe to return to a county hurling semi-final – this time at premier junior level – and Murphy’s men will be determined to make the most of the opportunity. They know better than most how hard it is to reach this stage of the competition.