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'They were obviously laughing at us walking off the pitch' - from Tyrone low to Kerry win

Cork captain Ian Maguire on their embarrassing 2018 exit to getting set for next Sunday’s Munster final.

Ian Maguire addresses the Cork players after their win over Kerry.
Ian Maguire addresses the Cork players after their win over Kerry.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Updated Nov 18th 2020, 5:23 PM

AS HE LEFT the O’Moore Park pitch on a mid-summer afternoon in 2018, the embarrassment hit home for Ian Maguire.

The present is about Munster final preparation and savouring their seismic win over Kerry.

But the past is still easily recalled by the Cork captain, a reminder that if that recent November night represented a joyous breakthrough against their arch-rivals, their hopes of recovery looked particularly bleak a couple of years ago when they were crushed by 17 points by Tyrone.

“I’ve two lasting memories, of 2018. The Kerry game, obviously that just didn’t go to plan, we got beaten by a better team there. You’re going into a big game and you just feel inferior.

“I think against Tyrone I thought we were going to bounce back and we’d give it a battle. They had a plan and they beat us off the park.

“I remember I met Fintan Goold walking off, a player who I played with and the first person I roomed with when I was playing against Mayo in 2014. He said something like, ‘Just keep the head up’, to me and I looked down at the floor. It was, like, I’m embarrassed, I can’t even look at you.

“That’s my one memory that I’m always going to be, like, don’t let that happen again.

“Because I thought in 2018 where are we going from here after getting absolutely man-handled by Tyrone? They were obviously laughing at us walking off the pitch.”

padraig-hampsey-and-ian-maguire Ian Maguire in action against Padraig Hampsey in 2018.

Ten days ago the post-match emotions were vastly different as Maguire mingled with his team-mates

“When you play bad sometimes you deserve the criticism you get and over the last couple of years we’ve lost games in a bad manner and we’ve lost some close games.

“The greatest thing about Sunday was we all warming down after and were together and we were chatting and talking about the good things in the game. I don’t know how many times we have warmed down and it’s just you’re deflated, trying to get fellas to bounce back straight away.

“The other day was enjoying the moment and soaking in the moment with your team-mates. Even Monday, Tuesday, you were still chatting with fellas on the team and we went training and you’re still soaking in the moment.”

When Cork snatched victory from Kerry’s grasp, Maguire was sitting in the South Stand. He had come off in the 76th minute of a gruelling, energy-sapping encounter. The closing tense passages of play unfolded in front of him, grabbing a draw was the main scenario he was contemplating.

“Luke put down the ball for the free first and I was like, ‘Well, if anyone is going to slot this free it’s this fella’. He stepped up anyway, not a bother, didn’t even think two seconds about it. When Sean Meehan made the run through first, I was convinced there was a ball on the loop but it never happened. He probably made the right decision not to shoot because he was on his right leg and he would have been shooting under pressure with a Kerry defender coming on his right leg.

“But when the ball came back to Luke I knew straight away that he was going to shoot this. That’s the beauty of Luke Connolly, he doesn’t need to be asked twice if he wants to take a shot or not. He’s claiming it was a pass but it was a shot!

“Then you could see the ball coming down and you were thinking, ‘Aw, no.’ I knew Mark Keane was in there. Then I just saw the flag fly out of the goal.

“RTÉ didn’t show, but whether it was right or wrong the whole bench, Ronan, Cian everyone ran straight onto the pitch, jumping up and down. The linesman had a heart attack. We didn’t know whether it was full time or not. The linesman then ushered us off and the full-time whistle went.

“To be fair, it was a surreal moment because it was a mixture of ‘I think we’re going to get a draw’ to ‘oh no, here we go again, another one of those days. WTF’.”

kevin-odriscoll-celebrates-after-the-game-with-ian-maguire Maguire celebrates Cork's victory with Kevin O'Driscoll. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Maguire’s seven seasons in the Cork senior ranks have been packed with near misses when Cork have faced off against a top-tier team. His first year in 2014 ended with a one-point loss to Mayo. A back injury wrecked his involvement in 2015, then he suffered defeats by three points to Donegal in 2016, a point short against Mayo a year later and then another three-point reversal to Kerry in last year’s Munster final.

“We were kind of labelled ‘nearly men’, which is the worst possible thing you could nearly be called as a player or as a team. These are still conversations I’ve had with my own club-mate Shieldsy, where I would have spoke like how do we keep missing getting over the line? It was hard to put your finger on it.

“I think Ronan touched on it in ’15 and ’17 and even the game the last day, I thought personally we showed periods of dominance but we never put teams away. I thought our game management last Sunday was as good as it was in any other game.

“Does it come down to experience? Is it the extra strength and conditioning? Is it the extra coaching from Cian O’Neill or maybe is it the mentality we kind of built on from, say the Super 8s that we are good enough, that got us over the line. I think they’re all factors that you kind of need to rely on.

“Coming off that pitch, perceiving ourselves as a better team to be honest and getting a victory like that, it was nice.”

The 26-year-old was conscious as well of those outside their playing group.

“My mother and father were delighted because they’re sick of seeing me sulk after games. As a player, you can get self-centred at times that when you lose or when you play bad. When you’re involved in a set-up you don’t think of other people involved. After that game, I was thinking of Frank Cogan, the masseuse who has been with Cork forever, Dr Con, Aidan Kelleher, Coli Lane, Brian O’Connell who has been involved as well.

“You’re thinking about those who have been helping you out for years with injuries and even just your personal form or doing you favours to get right for matches or doing favours in your personal life. It was just a nice moment because I think we’ve all been affected by poor performances or even underachieving.”

Knocking out Kerry was one objective achieved, backing up with a success over Tipperary next Sunday is their next task. They are familiar opponents, stretching back to Maguire’s underage career with a minor semi-final loss in 2012 followed by a trio of provincial U21 finals.

ian-maguire-and-steven-obrien Ian Maguire in action for Cork against Steven O'Brien in the 2013 Munster U21 final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

This will be the fourth championship meeting in five seasons between the teams, they have got acquainted as well through clashes in the last three league campaigns.

“I feel like I’ve been playing against Stephen O’Brien, Tipp’s midfielder, every year since 2011 whether it was underage, minor or U21. And a lot of those Tipperary players are around my age funny enough. Jimmy Feehan another fella, Bill Maher. I played with Jack Kennedy in college and Michael Quinlivan.
“David Power was the main man when it was my age with the minors. So they’re well organised, they’ve top players and are a very physical team. They have real talent going forward and we know what’s ahead of us.”

The inter-county focus has been a welcome tonic for Maguire. Over a month ago his club efforts ended in disappointment, St Finbarr’s losing a county senior semi-final after a dramatic penalty shootout.

“After that crappy loss now, it was bad, but to get back in Tuesday and Thursday, and the beauty of this team is that some of those lads I hadn’t seen in weeks so it was a great opportunity to meet up and talk to them again.

“It was a tough loss, funnily enough another tight game that I’ve lost, shocker. I couldn’t make it right with my club but at least I made it right with my county in a way.

“I’ll tell you what, Mark Collins has missed about four penalties in training since after sticking two against us!

“Obviously I think (Séan) Powter touched on it in his interview after the game how much love he has for Cork football and I think he spoke for every player. Sport is a great distractor in strange times like this. At least we have an opportunity to go out three times a week and take an emotional break from Covid.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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