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'We’re not in a position to take anyone for granted and that still applies today'

The Cork manager on victory over Kerry and preparing for Sunday’s Munster final.

Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

NO FANS PRESENT in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Tipperary donned in green and white jerseys. A late November date for a provincial senior football final.

Sunday will be a Munster showpiece like no other.

“The whole thing it is very, very strange,” admits Cork boss Ronan McCarthy.

“From lock down to there would be no GAA championship and I said to few of ye after the Louth match. that it’s surreal really the whole thing. The other side of that is people seem to want the games and are enjoying the game.

“Certainly from a players’ point of view it is strange but once they get into it and are playing a match they are not too worried about crowds or any of that. I suppose the message here is to keep it simple and whatever jerseys Tipp are wearing, the no crowd, it is still a game and we will prepare for it the same as the others.”

The last time Cork and Tipperary crossed paths with Munster silverware on the line, McCarthy was on the pitch for a two-game saga when the 2002 championship was settled.

“I actually was only talking to somebody about it today, we were absolutely blessed to get out of Thurles that day. Like, it’s amazing, Declan Browne gave an exhibition that day inside. Declan was a top, top class player, one of the best forwards in Munster in the last 30 years, no question about it.

“We never got control of the game, we were chasing it always and only for Colin Corkery on the day, at the other end, for us we’d have been beaten. By the time we were more focused and ready and they were probably a bit deflated having lost their chance. We beat them well the second day, Brendan Cummins actually played centre-forward that day for Tipp. They were a good side anyway but we were really lucky to get out of there with a draw.”

declan-browne-and-graham-canty-digital Declan Browne in action for Tipperary against Cork in 2002. Source: INPHO

Cork’s usage of substitutes was thrown into sharp focus after the replay.

“There was a bit of hassle about that at the time,” recalls McCarthy.

“It was about a blood sub and I recall correctly, I was the blood sub that either came off or came on.

“But yeah, I remember there was a question that Cork would be thrown out of the Championship at the time. I don’t think it was ever a realistic proposition but I remember a big furore about it.”

A replacement took centre stage in Cork’s most recent outing as well. Mark Keane’s dramatic late intervention saw Cork snatch success from Kerry’s grasp in stunning fashion. It was a landmark victory for McCarthy’s group after years of struggle yet it wasn’t one they could toast that night.

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“We did have a post match meal but again that is all sanitised. No, we did nothing and it is a pity. One of the first thing you say to players after a victory like that is that you remind them of the responsibilities in relation to making sure that they stay safe. If you are deemed a close contact at this stage, you are gone for the Munster final.

“It was strange but it did not take anything away, and I think you could see that on the pitch, from the euphoria of winning. Ultimately wouldn’t it have been great if there was a Cork crowd there and if the young fellas were heading out. From the point of developing a group ethic, and they are a group of players that like being together, I would have like to have been able to let them out and be in each others company for a few hours but it did not happen.

“But there is nothing like the couple of minutes after you win a big match, you are together with your team-mates and they got that.”

kevin-flahive-celebrates-after-the-game-with-brian-hurley Cork players celebrate their win over Kerry. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Eight senior championship debuts were handed out over the course of the win over Kerry, that injection of youth mixed with experience has helped.

“I remember when Nemo played Castehaven in 1993/94 county semi-final and the midfield pairings that day were Larrry Tompkins and Niall Cahalane against Shay Fahy and Stephen O’Brien,” says McCarthy.

“What happens here with a game like this is that you can imagine club matches next year and you have these big clashes going on between our county players. It lifts everybody, we have seen the benefit of these U17 and U20 victories. Some of the players who have come off the U20s are just top class players and are great to work with.

“What I would say is the senior players do that by example. An example of that last year was Paul Kerrigan, he got four points against Dublin in the Super 8s and did not start the next day against Tyrone. We named the team on the Tuesday and he was the first fellow out on the pitch on the Thursday.

“There’s a good culture developing in the group. If Paul Kerrigan – who has won every medal in the game and has a career of 14 years – sets the example and leads the way then younger players would follow it.”

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

McCarthy feels some of Cork’s emerging players benefitted from the lockdown in improving their conditioning.

“No player gets to that level overnight. Generally we try to give guys a couple of years in the panel. The day of bringing a fella in for a trial game or two and make a judgement on him like that is gone.

“Adam Doyle who was with us for my first two years would have done a lot of work in moving the team along, and there’s no question that Kevin Smith has added to it. I would also say one of the biggest things is Kevin and Cian, the way they integrate strength and conditioning into the training and coaching is key, it really is at a top class level. They are a perfect combination really and you are getting quality work all the time.

“Ultimately it is up to the player himself if he wants to make the breakthrough. And what was very evident when the players came back after six months away, you knew the guys who had gone away and were visibly stronger when they came back. Their running power and everything else was visibly better. Other guys on the panel then see that and it keeps pushing things forward.”

The next test is against familiar foes. Across different competitions, Sunday will mark the sixth Cork-Tipperary meeting during McCarthy’s reign. He knows the type of challenge in store and the different approach for Cork in being favoured.

ronan-mccarthy Ronan McCarthy in action for Cork against Tipperary in the league in 2018. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“They gave us ferocious trouble in the match in Thurles this year in the league, we’ve had a couple of good tussles with them over the last number of years and they seem to have gained a bit of momentum from the end of the league and have taken it on so I expect more of the same.

“We have to look at ourselves and make sure that we’re right going into the match. We’re not in a position to take anyone for granted and that still applies today. We’ve come a distance but to be a top team operating at the top level we have to become more consistent.

“This is a good test now for the panel, there’s a small bit of expectation and expectation brings with it pressure. It’s a different test for us to see how we have developed and have we the maturity to handle that but the team has become a lot more consistent over the last 18 months.”

Mike Sherry joins Gavan and Murray to preview the big one in Twickenham:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Fintan O'Toole

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