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Kearney banks on character and a faster start to tip Leeside scales

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Daniel Kearney. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Daniel Kearney. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Daniel Kearney. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

DANIEL KEARNEY made his SHC debut two years ago, a second half sub on a team narrowly beaten by Tipperary in a Munster semi-final. But it's another meeting with the Premier - this year's Allianz League quarter-final - that stands out in his mind as the moment Cork finally rinsed last year's All-Ireland 
hangover from their system.

The Rebels actually lost that NHL shootout by 3-25 to 4-19. Given their calamitous start, leaking an unanswered 2-4 inside eight minutes, a one-goal defeat almost qualified as a moral victory.

Kearney senses that performance was a watershed, coming after a meandering Division 1B campaign that - perversely - saw Cork promoted.

"I don't think there was one game where we were happy with our performance," he concedes. "That could have been just a bit of a hangover from the All-Ireland. We never really got going at all.

"We brought that into the game against Tipperary when, the first ten minutes, they blew us out of the water. We weren't tuned in at all."

Then, seamlessly tuning into their All-Ireland semi-final rematch with Tipp, the Sarsfields man warns: "If we're not at the top of our game, the same thing could happen Sunday. We're very aware of that and how important it is to start well."

CATCH-UP

Back to last spring. Kearney qualifies it all by stressing the difference in league hurling, how slower conditions "nearly suit the bigger, physical teams"; and also how Cork were playing training ground catch-up after their team holiday in January.

But while "never really too worried" about the league, he admits it was difficult to stop harking back to the previous September, when Cork were seconds away from lifting Liam MacCarthy on day one, then lost it for good on day two.

"When you're not playing to your potential, it affects confidence. It's tougher in training. You just have to battle through those days where you're after playing poorly," he says.

"We got a bit of confidence from the Tipperary (league game) in the way we came back into it, and could have nicked it ... we went down ten points and a lot of people thought that was curtains. If it was another team, it could have been 20 or 30. We showed good character there.

"If you looked back to last year against Clare when we were out of the game and came back into it ... that character, you can't really teach that."

Kearney was already 22 when Jimmy Barry-Murphy's return to the Cork hotseat coincided with his belated graduation to the senior grade. His first summer was very much a learning curve - his one start, an All-Ireland quarter-final against Waterford, ended at half-time, and he had to wait until the 68th minute for his semi-final bow against Galway.

epic

But last summer's run to the final, and ensuing two-game epic with Clare, marked his real coming on the big stage. "I definitely owe Jimmy for picking me the first time. I don't think too many managers would have had faith in me," admits the 5'9" Sars man.

"He went a bit against the grain with his thinking because, at the time, a lot of players were big and physical and everybody was saying that was the type of player you needed in midfield. Jimmy had his own ideas and thankfully I fitted into them."

This summer he has helped Cork to a first Munster crown since 2006. Now another All-Ireland final potentially beckons.

"We had a good year last year without winning anything," he notes.

"We're still young and on any given day we'd be confident that we could beat any team. Last year gave us a lot of confidence."


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