Cork's football captain takes centre stage - 'He’s got that fire about him'

Paul Kerrigan’s role has grown more important for Cork in recent seasons.

Paul Kerrigan celebrates at the final whistle Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

WHEN MARC Ó SÉ walked off the pitch in Fitzgerald Stadium in June 2010, he was satisfied.

Kerry had chipped away at Cork to peg them back coming down the straight and salvage a draw.

They had hung in there. The holders of Sam Maguire were still standing. A trip to Páirc Uí Chaoimh the following Sunday for a replay lay in store.

Ó Sé’s afternoon had revolved around keeping a close eye on Paul Kerrigan.

His initial feeling was that the duel had gone well.

Yet when the An Ghaeltacht man pored on the game with greater scrutiny, he was left with plenty to ponder.

“I remember well that Munster semi-final in Killarney. I was happy with how I was going.

“But at the end of the game, you look at it and he still kicked three points off me.

“I remember before the replay saying, ‘What’ll I do with this fella now?’. I just tried to, any chance I got I tore off down the field.

“He was running after me which I felt was great because I was keeping him away from where he was trying to kick a point.

“We’d great battles down through the years, particularly in ’09, ’10 and ’11. He’d take you on. He’d always ask questions.”

Paul Kerrigan and Marc O'Se Source: Tom Honan/INPHO

Seven years on Ó Sé is preparing for his first Munster final today as part of the masses in the stands, instead of surging out of the tunnel with the Kerry team.

For his part, Kerrigan is still asking questions of defences.

And this afternoon he will be arguably one of the most important players on the pitch.

A highly-experienced figure. A chief scoring source. Cork’s captain.

It was in a Munster final against Kerry that Kerrigan made his senior championship debut for Cork, shunted into action late on during that madcap comeback win in 2008.

Two years later he was an All-Ireland winner and is one of the last Cork forwards standing from that triumph in the rain against Down.

Cork used eight attackers over the course of that final in 2010. Daniel Goulding, Patrick Kelly, Pearse O’Neill and John Hayes are now all retired. Ciaran Sheehan’s sporting interest this weekend was facing the Adelaide Crows yesterday at the MCG.

Donncha O’Connor is generally sprung from the bench these days. Colm O’Neill came on as a sub in that final and is still a regular fixture.

But it is Kerrigan who started then and is still starting now.

He assumed the mantle of captaincy with Cork at the outset of 2016 and has reveled in the role rather than being weighed down by any increased pressure.

“I think if anything it’s benefited him really,” says James Masters, who has soldiered alongside Kerrigan for Cork and Nemo Rangers.

“Paul is not going to say a whole lot before the game. At times he mightn’t talk at all but then the last 10 minutes of games, you’ll see him.

“Watching the Tipperary game, you could sum up Paul’s feelings when he scored one of his points.

“Paul is not a showboater but his fist pump showed he was hurting like a lot of the players would be. Cork needed a leader and he was that.”

Paul Kerrigan celebrates after scoring from a tight angle Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

His football genes always pointed him in this direction. Jimmy Kerrigan is a member of the royalty in Nemo Rangers, the tale of his career strewn with club triumphs on Cork, Munster and All-Ireland stages.

His son has travelled down the same road. By October 2008 before he had turned 22, Paul was a four-time Cork senior football winner.

His influence grew during that run of local Nemo dominance. In 2005 he was entering matches off the bench, by 2008 he was commanding attention as the main main in picking off 0-5 in that decider against Douglas.

Outside of the local environs, he started to flourish as well. Clare’s St Senan’s were taken for 1-1 in the 2005 Munster final. He pickpocketed the defence of Waterford’s Ballinacourty for 0-3 two years later in the decider.

In the 2008 All-Ireland club semi-final in Ennis he bagged 0-3 against Mayo’s Ballina Stephenites but a month later was part of a Nemo team that fell one point adrift on the biggest stage against a St Vincent’s outfit powered by the scoring drive of Diarmuid Connolly and Mossy Quinn.

Nemo’s rate of relentless success dropped off from those dizzying heights yet Kerrigan has remained central. In 2010 he collected his fifth county senior medal and the sixth arrived two years ago as captain after a replay against Castlehaven.

Paul Kerrigan lifts the trophy Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

His club has been a constant in his life that has never been neglected.

“From his generation Paul was probably the best player in Nemo,” recalls Masters.

“He broke onto the senior team and it was a massive for us. He’d speed to burn, it was frightening really.

“He was a very good soccer player as well with Tramore Athletic. That’s what told as well over the last few years. When there’s penalties, Paul would take them.

“He’s a lot of Jimmy’s traits in a way, in that Jimmy would have been as far as I would know, very aggressive.

“Paul would be the same. He’s got that fire about him, as you saw against Tipperary when he scored a few points, how much it meant to him.

“He’s controlled it more in a last few years but there’s definitely a good aggressiveness about Paul.”

Jimmy Kerrigan with his son Paul 8/12/2005 Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Off the pitch, his day job has involved helping guide through the next Cork football generation.

After completing a business degree in Cork IT, he went back to studies again and has been teaching at his alma mater in Coláiste Chríost Rí in Turners Cross for the past few years.

Coaching the school senior football team was a natural step and they only lost out in the Munster colleges semi-final in February after an epic trilogy against a Tralee CBS side coached by Marc Ó Sé.

“I’ve spoken to a few people there that are involved in the Corn Uí Mhuirí and he’s highly thought of,” says Masters.

Tomas OÕSe Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“He’s involved with the Nemo seniors, he’d be with the Nemo juniors at times, there’s the Corn Uí Mhuirí team and then the Cork footballers.

“It’s the same as his father. Jimmy could have any job if he wanted but he chose to do the club team.

“He was obviously a great footballer but now he’s back training the junior hurlers.

“The big thing about Paul is that he wears his heart on his sleeve. You can ask any Nemo person, Paul is the ultimate club man.

“They could play Kerry on Sunday and have a week off after, but Paul would be down in Nemo playing junior hurling then, pucking around the lads.

“He lives with Peter Morgan. He’d have a great relationship with a lot of Nemo lads and he’d be down in Nemo an awful lot.”

Daniel Goulding shared a dressing-room with Kerrigan from Cork minor days as teenagers up until he brought his senior tenure to a halt last October.

They shared plenty days together on victory podiums.

Daniel Goulding celebrates with teammate Paul Kerrigan Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“He’s a good friend of mine, always a great personality in the dressing room. He’s always willing to speak his mind if he feels strongly about something. What always stood out for me was his pride and passion for Cork football.

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“A lot of people look at his football talent and his pace but what he’s most got going for him is his commitment. He’s always been trying to improve and no one really sees the extra work he puts in behind the scenes.”

When Kerrigan started out with Cork, his searing pace helped supply the bullets for the side’s chief marksmen to fire scores.

This is his 10th season on the senior football treadmill and as Gaelic football has evolved to a extraordinary extent, he has moved with the times. In an era of packed defences, Kerrigan is punching more holes now and grabbing more scores.

He has never been a recognised free-taker for Cork and instead raises flags from open play.

Last year he hit 2-9 for Cork in championship in four games, his second highest total in one season after the 2011 high of 2-12.

In Cork’s two outings so far this summer, he’s racked up 1-6. That figure has surpassed the total recorded over the entirety of six previous championship campaigns.

The improved scoring returns is reflective of an ability to hurt rearguards with his incisive runs.

But it also points to his leadership. When Cork were fading in the Fraher Field in May, he never wilted and atoned for earlier misses by kicking their final point of the game.

After the horror show in the opening period when Cork notched a solitary score, it was Kerrigan who ignited their charge in the second-half and hit one particularly memorable point from an acute angle with ten minutes left on the clock.

Goulding watched on in Páirc Uí Rinn at that semi-final and was struck by the authority the 30-year-old showed.

“He doesn’t let his head drop when things aren’t going his way. In the last two games, Paul created the spark that Cork needed and took total control of the situation.

“I think over the years, he’s developed into a real leader for Cork on and off the pitch.

Paul Kerrigan speaks to his team after the game Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“That’s even more impressive when you consider how rough the things have been over the last few seasons for Cork football and how the game has changed tactically with more emphasis on stopping scoring forwards.”

“I totally agree with that,” says Masters.

“When he came in with us with Nemo, it was great because at times when you’re up against it, you need a fella to carry the ball.

“If I got the ball 50 yards out, I’d be looking inside whereas Paul could literally take on the whole team.

“He lives and breathes football. That transfers when the need is greatest.

“The perfect example was the Tipp game, Cork needed a leader, they needed someone to break through that defence and score a few points and he did that. That’s bred into him.”

Cork’s last outing in Killarney two years ago saw their provincial title hopes evaporate on a gloomy July Saturday night.

Kerrigan scythed through the Kerry defence for a terrific goal that night, a memory that makes Ó Sé aware of the need to quell his threat in this clash.

“He’s very direct and he has the pace. But he’s clever too. It’s okay to have pace but you need to be able to look up and see what’s on.

“Paul does that. He’s done it for Cork down through the years and he’s been one of their leaders now for the last few years.”

Today will be the first time Kerrigan runs out as Cork captain in Fitzgerald Stadium.

It has been an unforgiving venue for the county’s teams for over two decades.

He’s stood up so far this summer.

Cork will need that kind of leadership more than ever today.

Here’s the Cork team bidding to stop Kerry’s five-in-a-row in Munster

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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