Friday 6 December 2019

'We've struggled for back-to-back wins in the league, so it's not going to be straightforward just because we are Cork'

Cork stalwart has missed just two games in 14 years, and the 32-year-old's fire still burns

Paul Kerrigan and Nemo Rangers are aiming for Munster SFC final glory on Sunday when they face Clonmel Commercials. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Paul Kerrigan and Nemo Rangers are aiming for Munster SFC final glory on Sunday when they face Clonmel Commercials. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

When Paul Kerrigan runs the numbers in his head, the Nemo Rangers man reckons he's missed just two championship games in his 15 seasons.

One of those came through suspension, the other through injury. When he picked up a knock on his knee in the latter stages of the 2017 Munster SFC final win over Dr Crokes, it struck him that it was his first injury since he damaged his shoulder at school. The timing of the knock was kind and, with a lengthy break before the All-Ireland semi-final, it didn't cost him any minutes on the pitch.

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"My dad (former Cork star Jimmy) wouldn't have been too injury prone at all. He did his knee towards the end. I take it almost as a source of pride, being available for nearly every game, every training session. With Nemo since I've togged out senior, I've missed two games in about 14 years. One was suspension and one was first round of championship which was a meaningless game.

"With Cork, haven't missed too many games. None through injury. A couple due to selection. If a fella told me, 'take the Tuesday off' I'd find that hard. I pride myself on my availability."

That extraordinary consistency has helped him through a remarkable career. On Sunday in Fraher Field, he'll go in search of his fifth Munster medal to go with the eight Cork county final successes. With Cork there's been the All-Ireland, Munster and league successes and he has no interest in slowing down.

He'll turn 33 next month but the fire still burns. Whenever Nemo's run comes to an end, he'll be straight back into county mode.

Football in the county was in the doldrums a few months ago but a run to the Super 8s, combined with All-Ireland U-20 and minor titles has changed the mood dramatically.

In January, they'll start one of the county's most important league campaigns in years. Promotion from Division 3 is a must if they are going to be in the race for Sam Maguire, rather than the new 'B' competition.

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"When I came in first, my first two years we were in Division 2 and we won it in 2009," he recalled. 'We won three Division 1s in a row and now we are Division 3 which should have been unthinkable.

"We have struggled to get a win at home in the last couple of years and before that it was a bit of a fortress. We have struggled to put back-to-back wins in the league which is a big thing, so it is not going to be very straight forward just because we are Cork to get up from Division 3."

Small tweaks rather than sweeping changes turned their fortunes last year. A move away from a designated sweeper to a more fluid system helped hugely. By the time the championship rolled around, they pushed Kerry hard and were able to bloody Dublin's nose for about an hour before falling away.

And Kerrigan reckons the Rebels' resurgence is down to the county getting its act together in terms of administration.

"I came on to Cork first and we were always in the semi-finals and finals, then we won it and (were in) National League finals and were really successful and then it just flipped. (It was) completely negative, rock bottom, going nowhere and that was right up to this year.

"And the 20s came out of nowhere to win it and then the minors won theirs and we got to the Super 8s. I think fellas should realise in Cork that's the baseline, the quarter-finals and the Super 8s. There's a new board and structures, the club championships have changed a bit as well to make them the bit more competitive so it's starting to get a bit more progressive rather than reactive which we always were."

And he points to the example of Dublin, who got structures right off the field to help them succeed on it.

"I can remember when we were pretty good around 2008, '09 up to '12 and '13 and that's when that Blue Wave was starting for Dublin and you're there 'what are they on about?' But who is laughing now?" he smiled.

"We probably weren't progressive enough in Cork, but I think it is going very much in the right direction."

He's hoping a return to Cork will be delayed for another few weeks at least. Sunday's opponents Clonmel Commercials chinned them at the death in the 2015 Munster final. There will be no shortage of motivation.

"I can remember because I was captain," he said.

"The sickening part is you didn't have a chance to go for an equaliser. It was literally the last kick of the game. It was galling for two years. I've come around to it though. Whether they beat us by one or 10 points, it's still in the books that they won Munster."

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