Sunday 20 August 2017

Cuthbert puts faith in never-say-die spirit

Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

As someone who has captained an All-Ireland winning Cork minor team, current manager Brian Cuthbert is well equipped to inspire his side to glory at Croke Park today.

Seventeen years ago, he lifted the Tommy Markham Cup after overcoming Meath on a day when Cork were chasing a minor-senior double. Back then, only the minors managed to achieve success. Cuthbert knows what it takes to win an All-Ireland and has plenty of advice for his young charges.

"Looking back I was as nervous as the lads will be today and I was as excited as they will be too," says Cuthbert. "I think the big thing is to keep focused, don't panic and remain calm. They need to think about what they are supposed to be doing right now rather than anything else that might be going on around them."

The fact that they are in the final at all is a minor miracle in itself. With 14 minutes left in the semi-final, they really looked a beaten docket as they found themselves trailing by nine points against a Galway team which had rattled in five goals. However, the team dug deep and drew from the experience gained from their dramatic encounters with Kerry and Armagh and mounted one of the finest comebacks of recent times in Croke Park.

"I always find that football games either go in slow motion or fast forward and when we went down nine points to Galway, it was one of those times when it was going in slow motion," says Cuthbert.

"I thought to myself 'this thing is all over'. I just couldn't see us coming back but we got a goal and that got us back into the game. Then the flow started and all of a sudden I thought if we keep going here we might have a chance. Next thing I knew we were level."

In a way coming from behind to scrape victory has defined this Cork team. They pulled it off against Kerry in the Munster final and again in their All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Armagh. They don't believe they are ever beaten and Cuthbert believes this attitude will stand to them today.

"A lot of people on the outside looking in said that we were lucky and there is a bit of that involved but there is a unity of purpose and togetherness that stands with these guys. When the game is in the melting pot and if we are still in it with ten minutes to go, we know we can go on to win it.

"These young fellas are very good friends, they are a close-knit group -- that's the best attribute they have. Against Armagh there were times when the game looked gone from us. We were six points down at one stage. The next thing one or two lads took the game by the scruff of the neck."

According to Cuthbert, being the curtain-raiser in Croke Park before the Cork senior team play is a bit of a double-edged sword. Having 30,000 people supporting them could give them an edge when the game gets tight, but it also brings added pressure.

"I'm hopeful that we would be in the game all the way to the end and if we are on a roll and the crowd get behind us that can be very hard to stop but if we make a mistake then we will know all about it too."

Since 1998, Tyrone have been All-Ireland minor champions on four occasions, a ringing endorsement of the county's underage structures and proof that its conveyor belt of talent shows no sign of slowing down. And they have made easy work of all opposition en route to the final.

"With the minors you have a new team every year so what a team has done in the past doesn't really matter. Certainly Tyrone have set a benchmark and Cork haven't been in an All-Ireland final since 2000. But we aren't looking at their tradition and likewise they aren't looking at ours.

"The pressure is on Tyrone today. In the Ulster final they did a demolition job on Armagh and then they destroyed Kerry. We are full of confidence because of what we have done so far but we know that Tyrone are the form team and we will have to be at our very best to beat them."

Tyrone: C Spiers; S McGarrity, C Clarke, P McGeary; N Sludden, M Donaghy, E Deeney; H óg Conlon, C Grugan; R Donnelly, T Canavan, R Devlin; S Tierney, J McCullagh, R O'Neill.

Cork: D Hanrahan; K Fulignati, M O'Shea, A Cronin; C O'Sullivan, T Clancy, J Wall; J Burns, D Cahalane; J O'Rourke, M Sugrue, D MacEoin; K Hallissey, T Hegarty, B Hurley.

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