Thursday 12 December 2019

Masters expecting backlash against Sligo from hurt Rebels

Former Cork star insists harsh criticism after Kerry loss will drive players on against Sligo

James Masters expects Cork to face a similarly tough test to the one he was involved back in 2007. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
James Masters expects Cork to face a similarly tough test to the one he was involved back in 2007. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Declan Rooney

The sight of a black shirt brings back mixed memories for former Cork forward James Masters.

Back in 2005 he kicked his first championship goal for the Rebels during their Round 4 qualifier win against the Yeats men. When the sides next met two years later, victory was Cork's again in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park, but a broken jaw sustained in the game left Masters with a sketchy recollection of the win and ruled him out of the ensuing semi-final.

He made it back for the heavy loss to Kerry in the final so there are no hard feelings on his side. Big hits are all part of the game.

"They were both tight enough games as far as I'm aware, but I don't remember most of the second one to be honest," said the Nemo Rangers man.

"There was about 10 or 15 minutes to go and I ran into Ross Donovan. I was going one way and I checked to go inside him and he tried to stand me up and his shoulder met my jaw.

"I played on for about five or 10 minutes, but I thought I had lost a few teeth because there was a bit of a gap in my mouth.

"I barely remember taking a free after and my mouth was full of blood. I couldn't spit it out because the referee would have told me to go off. My mouth was full of blood and I was looking at two sets of posts.

"I managed to kick the free, I was fairly lucky to be honest because it was only 30 yards out. But I knew straight away that something wasn't right. I was out then for about a month after that, but I got back for the All-Ireland final alright."

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Masters was the jewel in the Cork crown at that stage in his career. He was top scorer for the Rebels that year; he'd bagged 5-70 in his 15 championship games to that point.

But the 11 games after that injury saw him score just 1-10 and less than three years later he called a premature halt to his inter-county career.

Even now at the age of 32, you'd imagine Masters has the ability to do a job for Cork in the full-forward line, but he says he's quite happy to focus on club football and junior hurling with Nemo, despite retiring in 2010 – six months before Conor Counihan led Cork to a first Sam Maguire in 20 years.

"Yeah it was a hard couple of months to be perfectly honest about it," he said.

"Obviously when Cork won the All-Ireland I was delighted for the lads, but in my own head I would have loved to have been there. I just wasn't getting enough of a run, but that was my own decision too and there were no hard feelings. I have seen Conor on the street, I would stop for a chat.

"There is no problem there with us. My job didn't really help either, and I have to get on with things now. I made the decision and I stuck by it."

As a garda working shifts in Bandon, inter-county football was difficult to balance during the summers, and work commitments still mean Masters doesn't get to attend as many Cork games as he'd like.

However, he says he has been stunned by the reaction to the Munster final defeat to Kerry.

Kerry's 12-point double-score annihilation of Cork in the last game at Pairc Ui Chaoimh hasn't sat well with the locals, he says, but some of the abuse doled out to the players since has been way over the top.

Social media was only rearing its head when he called it a day with the county, but he thinks that the vitriol handed out to the current Cork lads will only add to their hunger to put things right against Sligo.

"People down in Cork were very hurt, they really were. I watched the Munster final and I was shocked too to be perfectly honest. I don't know what the reason for Cork playing so bad was," he said.

"I haven't been around for long but it was probably one of the worst ever Cork defeats I remember and that's the way the Cork public have taken it too.

"But the slating they are getting here on Twitter and Facebook, it's unbelievable. And some of the players I've spoken to can't believe it, it's like, 'wow, that's harsh'.

"The only thing that I would say is whenever a Cork team is down like that – especially the footballers – they would have some amount of aggression to get out of themselves.

"I personally think that Cork will be on the backlash. If I was a Cork footballer now I would be taking out my frustration on the Cork public because, I tell you, they got an unmerciful time down here.

"It's some of the worst stuff I've ever seen and anyone you meet involved in the game will tell you the same. There is no need to go over the top."

At stages in the National League, Cork looked unstoppable, especially when they got quick, direct ball into Brian Hurley at full-forward. There is the cut of a James Masters clone about Hurley, and the original says Brian Cuthbert's is the style of football he has a passion for.

"Cork have a serious forward line and they thrive on good quality ball," he said. "When I left there was the emergence of Daniel Goulding as the next free-scoring forward. But now they have Brian Hurley, Colm O'Neill, Daniel and Barry O'Driscoll.

"People are waiting for Brian to have one hell of a game and he is going to at some stage because we've seen it against teams here. We had two men on him the last time we played Castlehaven but he scored 11 points against us. It was frightening.

"Against Kerry, I don't think the ball into the forwards was sufficient compared to the Kerry lads.

"But I just personally think Cork will just unleash on Saturday. I don't know if Tullamore will suit them, but I just think their backs will be up. I'd be worried for Sligo."

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