JUST like the Cork team itself, Daniel Kearney has enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence this year.
Called up to the panel for the first time in 2012, he admits he could never have anticipated he would soon command a regular position on the starting fifteen, and that to get an opportunity to play in an All-Ireland final was something he didn't even dream about.
"It's all happened so fast, and it's totally unexpected, but I'm obviously delighted with the way it has worked out. I never played minor with Cork, but I played with the Under 21s in 2011, and I suppose it was the exposure I got with Sars in the county senior championship that put me in the spotlight. I was lucky that we had such a good group of players, and we've been there-or-thereabouts for the past few years, so that was a great springboard.
"Only for it, I probably wouldn't have been considered as a prospect for the Cork seniors," said Kearney, who won a third county medal with Sars last year, having picked up his first while still a minor in 2008.
"I honestly felt my chance was gone, but Jimmy (Barry-Murphy) stood by me, in fairness and I was back on the panel for the championship."
Wit hout as much as a league game under his belt, Kearney was thrown in at the deep end when introduced for the last quarter of Cork's clash with Tipperary in the Munster semi final at Pairc Uí Chaoimh. He got his first start in the All Ireland quarter-final against Waterford at Thurles, but he says things didn't go as well as he would have hoped on the day.
"It was uncharted territory, and I felt the pressure, because, as someone who hadn't played a lot of under-age hurling with Cork, I thought it might be a make-or break game for me. I was coming in under the radar to a large extent, and, unlike a fella who has come through from minor ranks, I was worried that if I played poorly, people would automatically conclude I just wasn't up to it.
"I ran myself into the ground during the first fifteen minutes, gave away a few frees and got booked, and it was basically a case of trying too hard. It was all down to inexperience and a lack of composure, but I learned a lot from playing in the league this season, and I felt I'd be better able to cope if I got another chance in the championship."
To say that Kearney has been better able to cope is an understatement, as he has been a key performer at midfield throughout the campaign. A man-of -the-match contender in the games against Clare in the Munster semi-final and Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter-final, he must be very much in line for All-Star recognition at the moment, an honour bestowed on only one Sarsfields' hurler – John Cosidine in 1990 – in the past.
A good display in the final would almost certainly secure that, but, more importantly, it would be a huge boost to Cork's bid to bring down Clare should Kearney replicate the form that has done much to accelerate the team's development this summer.