Thursday 8 December 2016

Tomás Ó Sé: I might ditch the dickie-bow and wear helmet in Killarney

Cork have ability to trouble Kerry, but must tap into more than criticism to prove it

Published 03/07/2015 | 02:30

Tomas O Se has his shorts pulled by Alan O’Connor during the Munster SFC semi-final of 2010 in Killarney
Tomas O Se has his shorts pulled by Alan O’Connor during the Munster SFC semi-final of 2010 in Killarney

Rumour is they'll have 'Wanted' posters carrying my picture stuck up in the Cork dressing room on Sunday.

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But if they're using me as a stick to beat Kerry with now, they're not in a good place. I've no doubt that my criticisms of them a few weeks ago will be used in some way because, if I'm honest, it's just the kind of stuff I used look out for as a player. Someone basically questioning the size of your manhood.

But I wasn't trying to stoke up a fire and I certainly wasn't trying to be a cute Kerry hoor. What I said is what I think of Cork. They just haven't stepped up to the plate for big games in recent years and they need to start doing that before people will regard them the way I'm assuming they want to be regarded.

If there's one thing I regret, it's that I probably shouldn't have said what I said about Brian Cuthbert. It's not my style to make something personal and that's certainly not what I intended there. But every other thing, I'd repeat now. It's not about having a dig. I respect Cork more than any man.

So let me repeat something. The players I mentioned, the likes of Colm O'Neill, Michael Shields, Alan O'Connor, Mark Collins, Paul Kerrigan, Brian Hurley and Donncha O'Connor, if those guys stand up and lead, then Cork can be dangerous. Especially if Kerry aren't tuned in properly.

But the point about this Cork team is that you just don't know what you're going to get with them from one day to the next.

In the post-match interviews on Allianz League semi-final day, Cork manager Brian Cuthbert spoke of the importance of coping with big tests (Sportsfile)
In the post-match interviews on Allianz League semi-final day, Cork manager Brian Cuthbert spoke of the importance of coping with big tests (Sportsfile)

If I was a Cork supporter, the thing that would make me angry is that they don't seem to learn from bad experiences. I mean we took an embarrassing hammering against Meath in the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final and vowed amongst ourselves that Kerry would never again take a trouncing like that in Croker on our watch.

Yes, we lost games in subsequent years. But they were never trimmings.

Cork have huge talent, that's the killing thing. But they can look leaderless and rudderless on the bad days and those days just don't seem to hurt them as much as they should. That's where I think Cuthbert has to put his hand up. Three times now in the last year they've been completely blown out of the water.

It's just not good enough.

Remember, they were expected to beat Kerry in last year's Munster final, so they're better than their recent record suggests. But they need to stop this thing of believing they've reached the Promised Land after one impressive win. My first ever game for the Kerry seniors was against Cork in Killarney, so this is a game with a special resonance for me.

And a lot of my favourite memories of going to Killarney would be the drives from out West in Páidí's car. Where we come from, the Munster final against Cork would be the game, the one that grips the whole parish. You couldn't avoid the build-up because it was everywhere, driving the juices, re-asserting its importance to your people.

Cork's Colm O'Neill 'has the ability to bring in his fellow forwards'
Cork's Colm O'Neill 'has the ability to bring in his fellow forwards'

You didn't want to let anyone down. Not yourself, not your neighbours, not your family.

It was the biggest game we'd play with the luxury of being able to sleep in our own beds the night before. We'd head across from Ventry on the Sunday morning then, sometimes cutting it a bit fine.

I remember one year, the traffic was backed up for maybe a mile and a half stretching out from the Golden Nugget pub. We'd timed it badly and were going to be late now. Anyway, Páidí just swung right and did his best Nigel Mansell impression down the wrong side of the road. Anything coming against us and we were dead.

Next thing a garda launches himself out in front of us, risking life and limb. You could see from his face what he was thinking. 'Jesus Christ, what kind of lunatic have I got here?' It wasn't a ticket this man had in mind. 'Twas jail.

Next thing he spots who it is behind the wheel and, being a local, breaks into a roguish grin. 'Ah Lord God, 'tis yourself Páidí, drive on there and beat the shite out of those Cork fellas today!'

People stuck in the jam spotted who it was too and started hooting their horns in support. And the buzz PO would be getting at that moment... you just couldn't buy it. Still, there comes a point where you have to separate the emotion from the game. This Sunday, the players will gather at The Europe Hotel from early morning, nothing allowed interfere with their focus. It'll be like another country there, a cocoon away from everything. Lads will be getting their rubs, getting strapped, settling down with their own thoughts. It'll be just peace and calm while the town inside gets over-run.

The bus journey in then bridges those two worlds. You go from the quiet of a health spa into something similar to Puck Fair. The streets will be thronged, Kerry and Cork people hopping balls off one another, big, smiling faces already radiant from the day.

Cork players; left to right, Stephen Cronin, Michael Shields, Daniel Goulding, Paul Kerrigan and Noel Galvin after the National League Final defeat to Dublin
Cork players; left to right, Stephen Cronin, Michael Shields, Daniel Goulding, Paul Kerrigan and Noel Galvin after the National League Final defeat to Dublin

The bus will pull up at the Crokes field, literally across the road from Fitzgerald Stadium. In there then to do the warm-up. Nobody gets in but the team, so all you can hear is this kind of great, hissing roar rising and falling from over the road. Hearing that, sets your heart racing. Because that's not the sound of a few hundred, that's the thunder of 40,000 people winding themselves up for showtime.

When I'd hear that, 'twas as if a bolt of electricity would shoot through my body. You'd be half afraid of it, but this other side of you, the wild side, would have you hungry to get out there to embrace it too. Mad to get going. Unless you felt that mix, something wasn't right with you. You shouldn't have been there.

They'll have their few words in the dressing-room, then walk across through the crowd, barely noticed though the kit-bags will be across their shoulders. A unique GAA thing. They'll probably be through the gate before they're even copped, an undercover army.

In my time, we never lost to Cork in Killarney. It's something we'd be proud of and something we always felt was there to be protected.

Billy Morgan was the last Cork manager to win a championship game in Kerry and he's someone I've time for. I've played under Billy (left) with Nemo's intermediates in recent times and the man would put the hair standing on the back of your neck. It strikes me that people misread Billy in the very same way they misread PO. They think it's all just fire and brimstone, roaring and shouting.

But he's as clever about the game as anyone you could come across. He'll give you these little insights that are nuggets.

We were playing Macroom one evening and just ten seconds from the man in that dressing-room honestly gave me goosebumps. All I could think was, 'Imagine that fella talking in a Cork dressing-room below in Killarney!' To me, it's exactly that kind of man Cork need driving them now. Someone with that ruthlessness. Put it this way, he's the kind of guy Kerry would prefer not to see on the line. Because Billy would go through you for a short cut and wouldn't be asking questions. Look at how he went after that great Kerry team in the late '80s? How he went after Mick O'Dwyer? I mean I love meeting Billy, he's a thorough gentleman. But he gets what this is all about. He understands it.

PO once described him to me as 'a street-fighter'. That's what he is.

Anyway, I think Kerry will win, but there's a part of me worried too. I was hoping for two things from the Tipperary game and, being honest, got neither. I didn't think we saw the drive and hunger in Kerry that they'll need to have and, worse, Tipp didn't really ask the questions to find out if it was there. So that game didn't throw up any of the benefits I'd have hoped for.

If anything, it just left questions in my head. People talk about the strength of reigning All-Ireland champions basically getting two new players in Tommy Walsh and The Gooch. But they're not getting the Tommy of 2009 or the Gooch of 2013, though they'll hopefully be improving with every game. That's the difference.

I'm not backing down on what I said about Cork. But I do think this game is going to be desperately close because I'm not convinced that Kerry are where they need to be. I'm not trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes in saying that, it's what I genuinely believe.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll be getting it in the ear from Cork people, but there'll probably be more than a few Kerry lads too with something to say about my Sunday Game dress sense. So it could be a long afternoon in God's country.

Might just ditch the dickie-bow for a helmet!

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