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'Dr Con told me about four days beforehand I’d be coming in if I didn’t start'

Kieran Kingston reflects on his first All-Ireland hurling final as a player, before looking ahead to Sunday’s decider.

Cork manager Kieran Kingston.
Cork manager Kieran Kingston.
Image: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

KIERAN KINGSTON’S FIRST taste of All-Ireland hurling final day arrived back in 1986 as a player. 

It’s an occasion he considers greatest in the Irish sporting calendar.

After making a handful of appearances during the league 35 years ago, he failed to make the match day panel for any of Cork’s games during their run to the Munster title. 

He wasn’t included as one of Cork’s five substitutes for the All-Ireland semi-final win over Antrim, but by the time the final against Galway rolled around he was very much in the frame.

“Dr Con (Murphy) told me about four days beforehand I’d be coming in if I didn’t start,” recalls the Cork manager.

As it turned out, he was the only Cork substitute used in their famous 4-13 to 2-15 victory.

“We were very relaxed going into that game, Cork were total underdogs again and Galway were more or less collecting the trophy. Cork had had a bad year, hammered by Kilkenny in the league final, and Galway had hammered Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final, so we were quite relaxed, had nothing to lose and we played with freedom.

“We won but that was then, this is now. It’s a totally different world.”

It may be a different world, but some things remain the same.

After Cork’s semi-final defeat of Kilkenny, selector Diarmuid O’Sullivan noted that “Limerick’s name is already etched on the cup”.

“We know we’re total underdogs and they’re raging favourites, and rightly so,” says Kingston who won two Celtic Crosses during his playing days.

“They’re the best team since the great Kilkenny team, they’re being compared to them and were unlucky not to win three titles in a row.

“We know we’re underdogs but it’s an All-Ireland final, only two teams can win it and we’re one of them.

“We have good momentum, we’ve won three knock-out games in a row and I think they’re good character-builders, particularly the semi-final, where our record against Kilkenny was poor.

“We lost seven of the last eight (semi-finals) so that was great for the group, for their evolution and development.”

Kingston disagrees that if Cork had been beaten by Kilkenny their reason would have still been a success.

“You don’t get to participate in what I consider to be the greatest day in our sporting calendar unless you win the semi-final, something I heard another manager say one time. By winning we’re in the final, which is super.

“Losing by a point or two — that depends on how the loss goes, if we’d lost in normal time by a point or two last week that wouldn’t have been great.

“But we needed to get over the line, we had seven starters last week who’d never played a game in Croke Park, and for their first experience to be coming to Croke Park to defeat Kilkenny, with their history… I think that’s great for them, being so young.

“We only had two players over 24 starting the game, so it’s great for their development.”

He’s keen to keep the limelight on his players and stress that their run to the final is more due to the quality available to him, rather than any managerial masterstrokes.

“I’ve always said that managers get too much credit when they win and too much blame when they lose. To me you can bring in the best managers of all time, Mick O’Dwyer, Jim Gavin, Jim McGuinness, Mickey Harte – if they don’t have the players they won’t win. Simple as.

“We’ve seen that over the years, a manager has to have the players. My job as manager – and our job in the backroom – is to facilitate those players to perform on the pitch, to be as organised as we can.

“But you can make all the decisions you want, if you don’t have players who are willing to leave it all out there for the jersey, to show a real honesty of effort, who have the basics of skill and speed — which they should have anyway — then it comes down to the other marginal things.

“Things like character, which winning teams always have in abundance. If you don’t have that in the group it doesn’t matter how good or bad a manager you are.”

That’s not to say management doesn’t have its challenges.

“All things can change. You’ve to hand in your panel at 9pm on Thursday but most teams train on Thursday or Friday as well, so you could lose players at those and your plans go out the window.

“You plan as much as you can tactically but you have to make decisions on the day. It’s easy for people to sit down eight hours later or three days later and say on TV, ‘I think they should have taken off this guy and put this guy on’ after four days looking at it.

“On the line you have 10 seconds, literally, to make a change. They’re totally different worlds.”

About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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