Sunday 25 February 2018

We have to go up believing we can win - Colm O'Neill

Colm O’Neill in his Best Menswear suit outside Croke Park – where he will return with the Cork team on Saturday – and, left, displaying his skills. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Colm O’Neill in his Best Menswear suit outside Croke Park – where he will return with the Cork team on Saturday – and, left, displaying his skills. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

When the Cork footballers emerged from Longford with a win in the back door, the relief was plain for all to see. Or rather hear.

Mark Collins stated after the game that he felt "Cork careers were on the line a small bit". Captain Paul Kerrigan admitted that the team had been at a "crossroads" before the Longford game.

Cork's Colm O'Neill. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Cork's Colm O'Neill. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

The Nemo man went on to reveal as part of their build-up, they used one of the oldest tricks in the GAA motivational handbook and took exception to a preview in a local Cork newspaper that tipped Longford to win.

"It's good to shove it down their throats," came Kerrigan's unequivocal retort.

By the time Colm O'Neill came to the phone a few days after the game, he's in a more sanguine mood. But he agreed that Cork had decided to fight, when in previous years they might have opted to take flight.

"I wouldn't go as far as the lads," O'Neill said. "I didn't think it was ever that bad. But it was very important for us to get the win.

"At half-time, in other situations we might have folded. But fellas fronted up and we got the job done. We didn't want to go out at that stage of the championship two years in a row."

Last year, Kildare dumped them out of the race but that was only one of a number of heavy knocks the team have taken in the last couple of seasons. And you can take your pick as to which one did the most damage.

But perhaps the first defeat to Tipperary in more than 70 years in the championship represented the beginning of the end of the Cork public's patience with their talented but unpredictable footballers.

"Look, it was very disappointing. It was a tough week. There was a lot of soul-searching there. It was hard, there's no point in saying otherwise.

"We went back to the clubs for a bit and came back then and tried to refocus. And the games have come thick and fast and I enjoy that."

They never got to Croke Park last year but that has been put right now. On Saturday night they'll face beaten Ulster finalists Donegal for a place in the All-Ireland quarter-final, a stage they have reached for ten seasons up to 2015.

"We didn't get up there last year. But I suppose we put in a decent performance early on up there this year when we played Dublin in the league. We probably just ran out of gas a little bit that night but I think it makes no difference to us whenever we play.

"We have met (Donegal) a few times in the last few years. They have had the upper hand probably and they gave us a good beating up in Ballyshannon in the league.

"We know they are a serious team. A lot has been said about Tyrone and how good they are after the Ulster final but Donegal were with them all the way. And they were leading right at the end so they are a serious team. And we know we are going to be up against it."

Since the defeat to Tipp, Peadar Healy has made some high-profile additions to the squad. Alan Cadogan was one of a few bright lights for the county's hurlers and he was snapped up along with former All-Star Aidan Walsh.

Their addition has only intensified the competition for places among the Cork squad.

O'Neill has first-hand experience and found himself warming the bench for the first half of the game against Longford.

His introduction, along with that of Paddy Kelly, helped to get Cork over the line but O'Neill is not taking a starting spot for granted next weekend.

"There is serious competition for places all over the pitch and in every line. There's a nice mix there too of young and old lads.

"Michael Hurley has been great. Peter Kelleher. And Sean Powter too. So we feel that we are coming together nicely. We just have to try and keep building now and I think we can do that.

"We have to go up here thinking we can win. Otherwise you are on a hiding to nothing and I think we will travel up and know we have a chance. Donegal are a very good team. We just have to bring it all together in one big performance."

Irish Independent

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