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Cork's comeback - 'There's been some defeats have been horrific, you'd struggle to look in the mirror after'

Paul Kerrigan reflects on Cork’s sensational win over Kerry yesterday.

Paul Kerrigan (right) celebrates with team-mates Mark Keane and Kevin Flahive after Cork's win.
Paul Kerrigan (right) celebrates with team-mates Mark Keane and Kevin Flahive after Cork's win.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

IN THE KERRIGAN family the late bursts of drama in settling Cork-Kerry Munster football tests are to be savoured.

A long-standing stalwart in the current setup, Paul drove home last night and reckoned it was the first championship game of his career that his father had been unable to attend.

The beeping car horns outside Páirc Uí Chaoimh indicated the delight of locals after Mark Keane’s 2020 strike had replicated the knockout blow landed by Tadhg Murphy in 1983 into the same City End goal of the stadium.

Jimmy Kerrigan was in the vicinity when Murphy hit the net 37 years ago just as his son had a front-row view on a November night when a returning AFL player provided a sensational conclusion.

“I rang him on the way home,” said Paul.

“It was one of the first things he said to be honest. It was quite similar, he was in a fairly close position to where I was.

“It was funny, I was standing with Colm O’Callaghan after the match, I’d be friendly enough with him.

“One of the backroom team came over and said, ‘It’s like Tadhgie Murphy and your father in ’83.’

“I said, ‘Yeah it’s uncanny, unbelievable.’

“Colm goes to me, ‘What happened in ’83 anyway?’

“I’d to explain it there. Next thing he goes, ‘What did he mean there by your old man?’

“I said, ‘Oh he played for Cork as well.’

“He was like, ‘What, did your father play for Cork?!’

“I was like, ‘He did yeah, he was playing for about 14 years.’

“I got some kick out of it, it was so funny. That’s it, no hang ups, like I’d say Colm was born in ’99. He’s a great fella, he keeps me young.”

O’Callaghan was part of eight debutants that saw gametime over the course of a marathon affair that stretched on for over 90 minutes.

Their fearlessness and ambition were crucial ingredients in Cork breaking the stranglehold that Kerry have exerted on the province.

That outcome was only sealed in the most dramatic fashion with Kerrigan right there to witness a famous goal from the Collingwood-contracted player.

“I did think we’d work a free or a score. I was half thinking when we were keeping possession, ‘It could be penalties here you know’. 

“Luke hit it and I kind of looked and I saw Mark Keane was in the square by himself. I just tried to get in just in case it might break behind him but he caught it, I just landed towards his right foot just as he struck it.

“It hit the side of the net on the far side, it was an unbelievable finish. It was very well done, he used his body well. He’s a big man, that strength to nudge off his man. When we were passing around, you could hear the Kerry boys shouting, ‘It’s over, it’s over’, that the match was over. When it went into the net then, you knew it was done. It was unbelievable.”

mark-keane-celebrates-after-the-game Mark Keane celebrates after Cork's win. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Kerrigan got another reminder later of the emerging nature of Cork’s team.

“Mark Keane sent me a picture after, that five years ago I was presenting him a medal. He was a big boy back then even.

“He said, ‘Look what I found there.’

“It was funny enough. It was Cork U15s or something.

“He’ll take him a bit of time to get back into the skills, this week was his best week training. He just needs to get into the swing of things, look he’ll take huge confidence from that. He mightn’t even know the significance of what he’s done.”

The jolt of a last-minute goal leaves players dazed as they try to absorb the outcome. The flipside of yesterday for Kerrigan was the 2015 Munster club final, his Nemo side caught at the death when Michael Quinlivan intervened for Clonmel Commercials.

“I was only thinking about that this morning and it’s the worst ever. I know it’s only sport but it’s a thing that makes you shudder.

“And Kerry were sick. Jesus Christ like, that’s devastation when that happens. There’s no way back. I’ve been there and it’s a tough one.”

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He can easily measure the value of this. His senior championship bow came when Cork won at the expense of Kerry in 2008. Further successes arrived against their arch-rivals in 2009 and 2012 but the addition of a fourth win to Kerrigan’s record has taken some time.

“There’s been some defeats have been horrific, you’d struggle to look in the mirror after.

“I was lucky there when we had good times. There was a good shot of guys who came in after that who have had a lot of tough times. I’d be looking at Kevin O’Driscoll, Mark (Collins), I know Mark came on in 2012, Luke, Hurley, Johnno, Ruairi, Maguire, then Loughrey and Tomas Clancy (out injured), Kevin Crowley is there a long time as well, missed out through injury.

“A lot of guys, the scar tissue was there, a lot of demons. I feel really happy for those guys to get a big win like that.”

The volume of well wishes he received last night in the aftermath of the game took him aback. He was conscious as well of the key members of their successful 2010 setup who have passed away, selector Terry O’Neill last November and team-mate Kieran O’Connor last July.

It was a hard week as well for the Nemo Rangers club with the death of stalwart Jim Cremin.

“It’s the first championship game for Cork since Kieran and Terry passed away. I was thinking of them this morning, and of Jim Cremin. It’s been a tough couple of months for lots of people in different ways.

“For Nemo lads and UCC lads especially, Jim would have been in my mind definitely this week. Kieran as well, we’ve our own Whats App group with the 2010 team. It’s one of our lads who isn’t in that any more.

“They’re two good Cork lads that are gone, maybe they’re smiling above looking at that yesterday.

“The amount of past players that have texted me, they’ve been through a lot playing with Cork so they were all having a drink at home last night and they were very, very happy which is great to see.”

The result generates a burst of joy in Cork football circles after a period of seemingly relentless struggle. This marked Cork’s first win over a Division 1 league ranked side since 2012 against Kerry.

The seeds of the revival were sown in 2019 in Kerrigan’s eyes.

“I think last year the corner was turned, the realisation of what’s required. The culture and the closeness of the group turned a bit and then the 20s coming in. It was quite similar to when we came in after we won our All-Ireland (U21 in ’07). The confidence there, you’re not really hung up about anything, you’re just going out and playing.

“I could just feel it when we met up yesterday, there was just real belief there. We were in there for the whole game, didn’t leave them get out of sight. You have to hang in there and your luck will come. That’s been an Achilles heel the last couple of years, it’s giving them a head start.

“The win was made on the training pitch since we came back from the lockdown. It’s been top class. Fellas deserve huge credit for how tuned in and sharp they’ve been. That’s what we’re looking forward to now, recovery tonight and back Tuesday.

maurice-shanley-celebrates-after-the-game-with-sean-meehan Maurice Shanley celebrates after Cork's win with Sean Meehan. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Maybe they felt the pressure a bit more than us yesterday. I honestly think we got a bit of a boost when we saw they were playing with a defender up top. We were suprised but said, ‘Yeah, that suits us fine’.

“You consider we finished without Ian, Killian, Hurley and Sean Powter on the pitch. A lot of extra-time was played without them. It’s a great testament. I thought Luke was unbelievable when he came on in terms of scoring. The one just before half-time of extra-time against the wind, it gave me some lift coming off at half-time.

“I thought he’d be playing, he wasn’t. He took it unbelievably well and just came on and made the difference. The conditions now in the winter, a good free-taker like that is hard to beat.” 

The typical summer setting for championship meant it was different for Kerrigan to head into Coláiste Chríost Rí where he teaches, on the morning after a game. It’s not a complaint though to have to work today after the interruptions caused to work, sport and life in 2020.

After such a lengthy wait for action in his 13th senior season, he’s enthused at the prospect of a Munster final. Recent seasons of dejecting exits mean this has been a year on the football field to cherish, as he points out his six-month-old son Billy has yet to experience a loss as a Cork senior football supporter.

But he stresses the stage of the competition and there have been frequent close-run affairs with final opponents Tipperary to breed caution now.

brian-fox-with-paul-kerrigan Tipperary's Brian Fox and Cork's Paul Kerrigan in action in the 2017 Munster senior semi-final Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“There’s no cup won yet. That’s one monkey off the back for a lot of us now to get the big win against Kerry, now the next thing is to get a bit of silverware. A lot of fellas have nothing really won.

“There’s no doubt they’ll fancy Cork far more than Kerry. They’re in the same division than us and they’ll see it as a massive opportunity. It’s been really tight. We beat them well enough in Thurles one time and they beat us one year when I was captain up there.

“Like Jack Kennedy, Sweeney and Quinlivan would get into most teams in the country. They have their quality and they’ll nothing to lose. We just have to get our training right, do our homework like we did for Kerry and then go out to actually do it on the day.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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