Monday 21 August 2017

'Its great to keep proving people wrong' - Ó hAilpín

Cork legend Seán Óg Ó hAilpín. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Cork legend Seán Óg Ó hAilpín. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Given Cork's extraordinarily high standards, frustration had reached boiling point in recent years after some underwhelming displays left them teetering on hurling's periphery.

It's only three years since their last Munster title win, but a defeat of Tipperary was a bolt out of the blue and many questioned if they could back it up, as on recent evidence it was another once-off from the Rebels.

Cork legend Seán Óg Ó hAilpín was optimistic, but after a series of false starts it was hard to be confident and the 2005 All-Ireland-winning captain was delighted to be proven wrong.

"The big question for me was could Cork deliver consistency? That question has been answered and not just for me, but for a lot of people at home. A win like that against Tipp is good for the heart, but it didn't seem convincing enough for me," Ó hAilpín said.

"Sunday was different. I would have had Waterford down as one of the front runners and doing it once to Tipp was one thing, but not alone did they do it, they did it more emphatically than I thought. In reality they were 10 points a better team.

"I looked at the clock at around 53 minutes and thought 'this game is over'. There was no energy from Waterford, their backs were working overtime trying to clear the ball, while Cork were fantastic as a unit.

"Waterford didn't seem up for the fight at all. Even if Cork don't win another game, they're building a team to compete at that level. It's been a few tough years for Cork and it was becoming an annual thing to be going home after losing by double digits. I'm holding my horses, but they're on the right track."

Speaking at the launch of Centra's All-Ireland SHC sponsorship and #WeAreHurling campaign, the former Hurler of the Year feels that Cork are thriving on upsetting the odds and can continue to do so.

"What more could you ask for? If you were a player and could choose any team to be involved with now, it would be Cork. The confidence after beating two big guns must be sky-rocketing. It's great to be in a campaign where every game you're getting the opportunity to prove people wrong. Get to the All-Ireland like that and that would be a great scenario."

The man who kept goal behind Ó hAilpín for over a decade, Donal Óg Cusack, will be in the opposite corner and a huge asset to Clare in the Munster final on July 9 as "if anyone knows the Cork psyche it's him and that will be his value to them".

Ó hAilpín was parachuted into the Cork side alongside Cusack in 1999 as fresh-faced youngsters under Jimmy Barry-Murphy and he sees clear comparisons between then and now - with one clear distinction.

"The big difference - and this is more kudos to these players than ours - is that these young fellas have had no glory at underage at all. We came off the back of a couple of good minor years and two All-Irelands at U-21, so we were confident young fellas," Ó hAilpín said.

Maturity

"These lads haven't had that background, but they have a natural maturity and self-belief. That makes this squad and their achievements all the more impressive."

Having worked alongside the likes of Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Shane Kingston with the UCC freshers, the 40-year-old knew they were "destined for days like Sunday", but he never expected it so soon.

He recalls a conversation with former team-mate Tom Kenny about Coleman and was in no doubt that he'd make an impact on the game's biggest stage, and in his old No 7 jersey, no less.

"I remember saying to Tom, 'would you look at this fella striking the ball? Have you seen anyone strike a ball as sweetly as him?' I would have heard of him a few years out, but it was only last autumn that I laid eyes on him," he said.

"For me it's clear as day that he's skilful as hell. What was satisfying for me was how Waterford set out to target him physically, as a 19-year old. Austin Gleeson went out to bury him, but he rode the tackle and played it on to Seamus Harnedy.

"He'll put on a few kilos anyway in the next few years, but look, an ounce of breeding is as good as 10 ounces of feeding. All we'd hope for is that he has a long and distinguished career with Cork.

"He's off to a great start, but there are many challenges and battles ahead. Looking at Mark, what he does epitomises what Cork hurling is about - skilful but hard when he needs to be and intelligent in his use of the ball."

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