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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 21 May, 2019

From waterboy to key man, Colm O'Neill is relishing being back on the big stage at Croker

The Rebels will need their young forward to fire against Mayo this weekend.

Colm O'Neill: long road back form injury.
Colm O'Neill: long road back form injury.
Image: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

IT’S A STRANGE state of affairs that Cork travel to Croke Park to face Mayo on Sunday as the underdogs, but nobody could quibble with the assertion going on this year’s displays.

Barely getting over the line in the Munster semi-final against Tipperary, Cork were then beaten by 12 points against Kerry. While last week’s win over Sligo will have helped to restore some belief, nobody was rushing to class them among the Sam Maguire favourites.

Could the case even be made the Rebels have fallen so far that Mayo will take them for granted?

“With the help of God they will!” Colm O’Neill laughs. “I’m sure James Horan will have them well screwed-in to the match on Sunday, but one thing that we have in our favour is that we have a good game under our belts.

“We’ve been training hard for the last few weeks, the Munster final was disappointing but since then there has been a good reaction in training. Fellas are champing at the bit to get back in, you can see that by the changes that were made against Sligo.

“The three or four subs that came on pushed us over the line when we needed it when Sligo came back to four or five points, it gave us a bit of a lift.”

Coming off such a loss as the Kerry one, you might surmise that Cork were under extra pressure, but O’Neill is keen to point out that the focus was on looking ahead rather than back.

“There’s pressure on in every game you go out to play with Cork,” he said.
“The Munster final is probably well-documented, we’re all grown, proud men now and everybody was disappointed with that performance. There’s no-one who can hold their hand up and say that they played well that day.

“It’s just something that we addressed and we moved on from it, there’s no point dwelling on it too much. We looked at the video and had a chat but you can’t be looking back too much, the only thing really is to look forward and Sligo was our main focus.

“We probably don’t have too much time even to be focusing on Mayo, we’ll train a couple of times and make sure our tactics are right and our house is in order.

“We were back training on the Wednesday night [after Kerry] and there was a fair bit of bite to it. Fellas were hurting and we were glad to get back on the pitch and get the thing on the road again.”

Colm OÕNeill Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Having been a sub against Tipp and Kerry, O’Neill was eager to make his mark in Tullamore last week.

“Obviously, you’re disappointed when you’re not starting, whatever the game may be, but I wasn’t going well enough to justify a starting position and there were boys performing better in training than me so I’d no complaints. That’s the fairest way to do it and it’s what Brian said he’d do all year.”

Being on the bench was more down to his recovery from a third cruciate ligament injury than anything form-related, however. Having been down the road twice before, he was at least prepared for the recovery process after sustaining the injury in a league game against Donegal in 2013.

Operating as the Rebels’ waterboy helped to keep him involved with the panel and also provided motivation.

“It wasn’t as if I was going into the unknown, really,” he said. “I don’t know is it a good thing or a bad thing that you know the road ahead of you, I just put the head down in 2013 with [physio] Colin Lane.

“There was never a time that I wanted to pack it in, if that thought crossed my mind I’d be wondering what I was doing there at all. It drove me on really, when I was down doing physio and the lads were out on the pitch.

“In fairness to Conor [Counihan] last year, he kept me on in the background doing water and what not.

“I was up with the lads last year against Galway and Dublin and going away after those matches you’d be thinking that, the next time Cork would be back, you’d be there as part of the panel rather than as a spectator or a waterboy.”

Here’s the GAA coverage coming up on TV and radio this weekend

5 subplots to look out for in this weekend’s GAA

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TheScore Team

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