Cork’s Stephen McDonnell and Waterford’s Jamie Barron, pictured at the launch of the Munster Senior Hurling championships at Muckross House, Killarney recently. Photo: Don MacMonagle.
Munster SHC Semi-final Preview: Waterford v Cork: Waterford midfielder Jamie Barron
Marty Morrissey dropped out to Jamie Barron’s homeplace in Ballymacarbry for a television piece prior to last year’s All-Ireland semi-final. At the height of the summer, the Fourmilewater midfielder had garnered acclaim for his ferocious endeavours through the league and championship.
The RTÉ commentator accepted an invitation to return in early February for a celebration night at the community centre. The club had produced two All-Ireland under 21 medallists in Conor Gleeson and Dermot Ryan and its first All-Star all in the one year.
Under the cover of darkness, Marty lost his bearings however and arrived late to the party. The show went on regardless and the Clare man explained to the packed hall that he and Jamie shared a lot in common. “We’re both six foot six, well-built and the women just love us!”
At five foot and nine inches, Barron worms through the congestion. The 23 year old outperformed Michael Breen, Brendan Maher, Conor Fogarty and Kevin Moran to get on stage at the Convention Centre.
It didn’t diminish his hunger over the winter. In round one of the league, TG4 co-commentator Donal O’Grady chose him as man of the match. Just another day at the office for Barron who supplied three points, won two frees and made 18 plays.
It wasn’t always so straightforward. The senior dressing room was an intimidating environment to enter at first for a light corner forward. “I was a small player back then and the easiest place to put me was in one of the corners!” Barron hurled two years with the minor panel and sampled under 21 before he got the call-up from Michael Ryan in 2013. Although he netted a brilliant first-half goal in a big home win against Tipperary during the back-end of the league, those initial training sessions came as a rude awakening to the newbie. “When I was coming in first, I was only eighteen and coming up against grown men. I was a lot smaller than I am now and back then I was blown away inside at training! Now I’m able to hold my own a bit better. The gym work and the nutritional side of things are huge these days. They’re the biggest changes you have to make.”
Barron bulked up to better absorb the collisions. “You nearly take it for granted now; you forget where you were and how far you’ve come in the last few years. Strength and conditioning back then was torture but it’s not as bad now. I think it all helps and you’re just building a base and you keep progressing from there.”
His championship debut against Clare lasted 56 minutes and he was in and out of the team for the qualifiers. Looking back on that induction phase, the leap from under 21 to senior was a sizeable one. “It’s worlds apart really to be honest with you. Our under 21s have won an All-Ireland and maybe Waterford fans would expect to get senior success straight away and it doesn’t work like that. When I was under 21, coming back in you think that it’ll be easy enough to step up to it. You need a lot of years’ work to be able to compete at that level.”
The Fourmile man derived inspiration from local heroes. He saw club mates Brian Wall, Liam Lawlor and Shane Walsh don the county shirt on major championship Sundays and win Munster titles. “Looking at your own club players doing it for the county, that’s a massive thing when you’re younger. They’re fellas that you know and you’re watching them going out playing in front of forty or fifty thousand. I remember looking up to them and thinking that I want to be like them. It makes you believe that you can do it and that’s a great help for all youngsters.”
Lawlor and Walsh were regulars around the time that Barron linked up with the squad and their presence allowed him integrate smoothly. “They used to bring me down to training because I didn’t have a car at the time! It broke you in so to speak and got you settled. It plays a massive part for a young fella coming onto the panel just to make you feel at home more than anything else.”
LOOKING FOR A SHOT AT REDEMPTION
Waterford’s eighteenth All-Star recipient has yet to pick up a Munster medal at any grade (losing two minor and two senior finals). Victory on Sunday would give him a shot at redemption. “Last year, we played very poorly and didn’t show up. That was a big disappointment. We’ll be looking to get back there and if we do to rectify that performance. A Munster would be very nice to add to the league title two years ago.”
The number eight nailed a 69th minute equaliser during that gripping All Ireland semi final replay with Kilkenny last year. 2-16 each. The celebrations were short lived however as surprise inclusion Liam Blanchfield won a free off the next play and the Cats scraped through. “That just shows the margins of it all. You’re literally a score away from being in an All Ireland final or you’re back at home waiting for the next year to start again. That’s the way it panned out for us. It’s a new ball game now and we’re as far away as ever at the moment. June 18 is our sole focus.”
If Barron’s growth continues skywards, Marty may be booked for a comeback gig.