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Lippy southerner Counihan shows signs of strain as semi clash looms

IT WAS always going to be a matter of time before those smart-mouthed southerners started getting lippy.

And with just 10 days to go before Dublin's All-Ireland semi final, Cork manager Conor Counihan has declared that the Rebels are the "biggest and the best".

The inter-city taunting begun in earnest on Leeside last night as the Corkonians bid to end a 20-year gap for All-Ireland football glory.

Following their humiliation at the hands of Kilkenny in the hurling last week, the pressure now turns to the footballers.

And for next week's likely Croke Park sellout match, it might just be getting a bit much for Counihan.

Last night at Cork's final press briefing before the match in the Rochestown Park Hotel, the Rebel boss stoked the embers of the rivalry when quizzed over the relationship the two counties enjoyed in the past.

"We're the biggest and the best. There's no doubt about that," he declared.

A double All-Ireland winner in his playing days, Counihan stopped short of dubbing Cork 'the real capital' and made all the right noises about their opposition on Sunday week -- yet the Aghada native was acutely aware that all the pre-match pressure was squarely on his own team.

"Rightly or wrongly, maybe some of the teams we played on the way through, some people underrated them," he stated. "Trying to get people motivated for that can be difficult whereas now, we're in an All-Ireland semi-final against one of the top teams. The motivation to get to an All-Ireland final is as big as it gets."

So long the bridesmaids of the senior football championship (Cork have lost four finals since their last success in 1990), the Rebels are now favourites for Sam Maguire after both Kerry and Tyrone were sent sprawling from the championship by Down and Dublin respectively.


Counihan himself played in an All-Ireland semi-final against the Dubs back in 1989 -- Cork's only championship victory against the men from the capital -- and said the experience of facing a packed partisan Hill 16 is a unique one.

"There's a great atmosphere there," he explained. "It's a great occasion. I'm sure Sunday will be the same. It certainly adds a bit to it."