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'This is not the place I expected to be' - Stepping up as Cork boss, injury tests and Páirc Uí Rinn saga

Cork face Kerry in Saturday’s Munster semi-final.

Cork interim manager John Cleary.
Cork interim manager John Cleary.
Image: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

IT’S NOT A managerial role John Cleary had envisaged taking this year but he is set to embrace his position as Cork boss for next Saturday’s Munster semi-final against Kerry.

The All-Ireland winning forward enjoyed huge success as U21 manager for the county but it has taken until this season for him to become involved in the senior setup.

That initial role was as coach but the job title changed when Keith Ricken was forced to take a sabbatical for health reasons, creating a vacancy which Cleary has filled on an interim basis.

“If you told me a couple of months ago, this is not the place I expected to be. Look unfortunately, circumstances came into play and Keith got ill. It was a case of the rest of the group stepping up to the plate. The lads wanted to put my name forward as the face of the group, that is the way it turned out.

“Luckily enough, Keith had an awful lot of the groundwork and preparation put in place, but there is a huge difference with regard to being just involved in a coaching role and being the front face of it, even the amount of time, and then the ultimate responsibility in that with the manager a lot of the decisions that have to be made come down to one person at the top.

“Definitely, it is a completely different role. Hopefully, Keith will be back in action soon again and he’ll slip back in.

keith-ricken Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“This was kind of thrown upon us all of a sudden and it was a case of step up to the plate and get through, the two League games, then the championship comes quick after that. I didn’t really get an awful lot of time to think about it. The other thing there is the other lads have been doing the bulk of the work because it is something, I don’t think, one person trying to hold down a full-time job can practically do in this day and the age.

“The other lads have come in big time and put their shoulder to the wheel and took over an awful lot of what Keith was doing and that was a big help.”

Ricken has maintained a connection with the group since stepping away.

“He doesn’t come every night, but he has been around one or two nights. He was anxious then, when he wasn’t up to it, just to take a step back and he didn’t want to be seen as interfering or anything like that. But yes, he is around the place.”

Cork’s focus is on Saturday night’s game, a fixture Cleary was always confident would take place, despite the uncertainty over Páirc Uí Rinn as venue for the game.

a-view-of-pairc-ui-rinn-ahead-of-the-game Páirc Uí Rinn. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Originally, it was fixed here and we got a bit of a surprise then, the group did, when it was taken away from here all of a sudden. The group kinda said then, what is that about. They came out with a statement and maybe it helped that they had seen precedence of other crowds who had stood their ground and it turned in their favour.

“Once it was decided on that, it was kinda forgotten about because we have problems enough trying to get everyone back fit and get everyone on the field and get our preparation right.

“I think everyone wanted to play it and that was it. Definitely, a lot of the lads were newer guys and younger guys. They needed something to cling onto and some bit of an identity, and I think maybe that was it. When that’s done, the game is going to be played on a pitch. I don’t think it is going to matter next Saturday night.”

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Since defeating Down and Offaly in their last two league games to preserve their Division 2 status for next season, Cork have hit the challenge game circuit with encounters against Clare, Tipperary and Cavan.

The injury news for the squad continues to be mixed. Defensively John Cooper has emerged as a doubt with a calf strain, while a call will be made later this week on Sean Powter’s fitness. Tadhg Corkery is available for selection again, as is Brian Hayes and Brian Hartnett.

Sean Meehan is a long-term absentee with a hamstring problem, while experienced midfielder Ian Maguire is expected to miss out due to a broken bone in his hand. Killian O’Hanlon, Liam O’Donovan and Conor Corbett have all resumed training but the game appears to be too occurring too soon in their recovery as they have all been sidelined for some time.

“I suppose you’re very much guided by your medical people there and the guys themselves want to play and they want to get in,” said Cleary.

“Sean Powter, Ian Maguire, these fellas will play on one leg. They want to play against Kerry, they want to play the big games, but like the medical people keep saying to us, you’ve got to look at the bigger picture. A week or two now could mean you’ll have them for the rest of the season, whereas if they go out here the next day, they could break down and that’s it for them.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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