August 13, 1993
Barry Coffey - A Vital Part of Cork's Championship Assaults For Nearly A Decade.
Bishopstown Clubman is wary of Mayo
Ever since the 1984 Munster final Barry Coffey has been an intricate part of Cork's annual Championship challenge. He has waded through thick and thin wearing the red jersey, winning back to back All-Irelands in '89 and '90 before the Rebels disappeared into the wilderness for the following two years - not managing a single Championship win in either '91 or '92. Fortunes would seem to have changed drastically in favour of the Leesiders once again this year, however. They go into Sunday's All- Ireland semi-final against Mayo having eased their way through a Munster sector in which NOBODY ELSE ever looked capable of keeping the provincial crown out of the Corkmen's grasp. With the big match now just a matter of days away, Cork's long-serving wing forward admits to feeling a little bit uneasy: "I'm nervous about the fact we haven't had a tougher game in Munster. We were expecting bigger tests from both Clare and Kerry but they didn't materialise. I'm also half nervous about the fact that everyone is writing Mayo off already," says the wary Bishopstown clubman.
Coffey, who was born in Cork city on the first day of March 1965 and is currently residing in Ballincollig just outside the city, has been playing football since he was a young lad of about seven or eight. With the Bishopstown club he hasn't quite achieved the same degree of success which he has experienced at inter-county level. The club have been knocking on the door in the past few years, reaching three county semi-finals but not quite making the big breakthrough as yet. Last Sunday they were beaten by John O'Driscoll's in the quarter final of this year's Cork Championship.
Coffey's long and highly successful inter-county career began eleven seasons ago when he represented the Cork Minors who were defeated by Kerry in the Munster final in 1982. The following year he appeared in the All-Ireland final against Derry at the same level. Cork went down by a scoreline of 0-8 to 1-3 on that occasion. Alongside Coffey that young Cork side also included such notables as Teddy McCarthy, Mick McCarthy and Mick Slocum while lining out for Derry were the likes of John McGurk, Dermot McNicholl and Damien Cassidy. Barry relishes the prospect of another Croke Park showdown with Derry this year at Senior level and actually predicts a final featuring the Ulster and Munster champions. He is confident that the Corkmen can go all the way.
In 1983 the Bishopstown stalwart was also brought into action for the first of four years as an U-21 county player. He was called up that year for the Munster final which they lost to Kerry before going on to record a unique achievement of collecting three All-Ireland Under-21 medals on the trot, defeating Mayo, Derry and Offaly respectively in the '84, '85 and '86 deciders Since making his Senior debut for the Rebels, in a National League quarter-final against Galway in Limerick in 1984, Barry Coffey has gathered an array of honours including All-Ireland and National League successes. The wing forward, sometimes wing back made his Championship debut coming on as a substitute against Kerry in July 1984 in the Munster final. The undoubted highlight of his career to date came in September of 1990 when he collected his second successive All-Ireland medal as the Rebels overcame the challenge of Meath. "That was my most enjoyable game for Cork," he points out. "From my point of view I thought we left one behind us when we played Meath in the '88 final, so it gave us great satisfaction to beat them that day."
The Cork ace has been employed by Dawn Farms for just over three years now. The company has two different branches, one in Cork and one in Naas, and Barry, who is a sales manager, commutes between the two bases. He is the youngest of four children of Bryan and Mary Coffey, having three older sisters. He is married to Bernadette for three and a half years and has two children, Bryan (2) and Vincent (4 weeks). In the little spare time he has away from football and his professional career, the Ballincollig based player dabbles in a bit of rugby and shooting. If his accuracy with a gun is anything like it has been with a ball down through the years then the pheasants residing in and around Cork are in big trouble!
Standing at 6'1" he cites his father as the biggest individual influence on his playing career. "My father would have played more rugby than football himself but he used to play Gaelic with the Lees club who are now disbanded," he tell us. Barry was educated at an Irish college called Collaiste Phiarsaigh in Glenmuire, Co. Cork. At school he could only play a limited amount of football. "The school was very small," he explains. "In my Leaving Cert year there was a total of 22 of us and 13 of them were girls. We played a little bit-but nothing serious." When he finished at Collaiste Phiarsaigh Coffey went to UCC where he studied for a degree in Commerce. During his four year stint at the third-level college, he played in four Sigerson Cups, losing out narrowly in three finals (two against Jordanstown, the other against UCG) and a semi-final at the hands of UCD. He has also represented Munster in the Railway Cup and was twice nominated for All-Star awards, in 1989 and 1991.
Although the Cork city native began his inter-county career at wing forward and has been occupying that same position in recent outings, he has been very much a utility player for the Rebel County. Throughout the years he has regularly been switched around from wing forward to wing back and he has also been known to take up midfield or corner forward positions. Indeed, before this year he had spent most of the previous four years playing in defence for Billy Morgan's team. Coffey played in all three of Cork's victorious Munster Championship matches of 1993. The Leesiders kicked off their campaign in fine style with a 2-14 to 1-10 victory over reigning champions Clare in Cusack Park on May 30th three weeks before knocking out arch rivals Kerry in the semi-final at Killarney's Fitzgerald Stadium by 1-1- to 0-10.
"We were under a lot of pressure going into the game against Clare," reflects Cork's half forward. "We were playing the Munster champions where they had a lot of support. We were reasonably confident despite the fact that we went up as underdogs. It was a very gutsy performance and a nice victory. It gave us back a bit of much-needed confidence. That was very important going into the game against Kerry - it was a big advantage having a Championship game under our belt. It worked for them last year and it worked for us this year. The fact that the score didn't reflect our dominance was a worrying aspect from our print of view. It would've been soul-destroying for us if we'd lost that game."
Next up was the Munster decider against the unlikely pretenders from Tipperary which Cork won at a canter. "We went in as red hot favourites. I'd say the biggest thing that drove us on was the fear of losing. We sat back after we went eight points ahead. We were satisfied with our over-all performance - any time they raised their game we did likewise. We were able to pull away from them quite easily," recalls the sales manager with Dawn Farms
But how good of a yardstick was the Tipperary game as far as assessing Cork's All-Ireland winning potential? "Not great to be honest," Coffey feels. "After the Connacht final everybody is saying how bad Mayo are. It's still going to be a difficult task to beat them. They'll have a huge support on the day but the Cork fans won't travel. Our fans tend to save themselves for the bigger day."
Because of the seemingly poor performances which were offered by Clare, Kerry and Tipp it is difficult to know exactly how good Cork are this year. Their wing forward is confident that the Rebel County will reach their fifth All-Ireland final in seven years. "You always have to go out confident irrespective of who you're playing," he advises, adding that he believes the ideal balance between experience and youth will be a major asset to the Munster kingpins. On the other hand he points out that the tragic injury to Larry Tompkins is a major set-back: "I would be a lot happier if Larry was is full flight. It's very tough on him because he eats, drinks and sleeps football. Our task has been made much more difficult by his absence."
Barry Coffey believes that the biggest danger to Cork is that they could "get sucked in" by the fact that everybody seems to be writing Mayo off before a ball has even been kicked. "I don't know a whole lot about them but there's never been too much between the two teams at U-21 or Senior level. Mayo would have a very good tradition and a lot of good players" Casting a brief eye at the other semi-final, the Corkman picks Derry to win it "on hunger alone". He thinks that, in Eamon Coleman, Derry have a great motivator while the Dubs haven't been the side they were since 1989.
As for himself, what does the future hold for one of Cork's most experienced and versatile stars? "I'll take it as it comes. I'll see how this year works out. Once I'm enjoying playing, I'll continue to play," offers the 28 year old who is just 140 minutes away from securing his third All-Ireland Senior medal with the Rebel County.
Written by the Hogan Stand Magazine
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