Friday 19 January 2018

'It was kill or be killed' - Cork hero Conor Lehane on triumph over Tipp

Cork's Conor Lehane of Cork celebrates. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cork's Conor Lehane of Cork celebrates. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Jackie Cahill

'Kill or be killed.' That's how it was, in Conor Lehane's eyes.

Yesterday at Semple Stadium, Cork were the executioners, ending Tipperary's reign as Munster champions and blowing a massive hole in their quest to win back-to-back All-Ireland titles for the first time since 1965.

Lehane was scorer-in-chief for Cork, lancing five of his ten points from play.

He said: "You're farting around there for the last few years, just going through the motions. There's only so many years you can do that before you get fed up."

Cork had had enough. Fielding five full championship debutants, and with Michael Cahalane coming off the bench to make that six, they hurled with freedom, expressed themselves.

Midleton star Lehane was pleased that training ground form finally emerged on a championship Sunday.

Referencing the new players, Lehane said: "They played unreal, in fairness to them, even Shane's (Kingston) goal there, the time when it came.

"That was massive. We didn't have the right mind-frame the last few years, that's all it was. We zoned in on what we needed to do, and we did it.

"We've seen the way we play in training against each other. We're always like, 'why can't we put this together in a match?'

"Through the League, we put our attitude into practice, when things go wrong or we're up against it, how are we going to react to it? It was how we respond to things mentally, more than anything.

 "Even in some of the games in the League, we'd play a half each and even against Kilkenny, we had a good first half but fell away in the second.

"It's very frustrating but a huge effort went in and we're absolutely exhausted. There were lads cramping, that's how intense it was.

"In Thurles on championship day, it's kill or be killed. It's brutal but enjoyable at the same time, kind of a weird mixture."

During the week, Cork manager Kieran Kingston had asked for a performance to make the county's supporters proud.

He reflected: "I said all year that all we'd continue to do is to continue to prepare as best we can, to get the best 15 available on the field, and to get them to put in the performance that you'd expect from a hurler wearing the Cork jersey.

"That's what we kept on about, but it sometimes takes a while to develop that culture in a team.

"I'm not saying we have it, don't get me wrong, it's one game and that's all it is and we're happy with it, but it's no more than that."

Kingston's bold team selection paid rich dividends but he insisted: "We pick players on form, players who delivered for us in the Munster League and the National League, who've shown form for us in training, in matches, we've tried to be fair.

"Age shouldn't come into it but three of those players are 19, one is 20.

"People say it's a youth policy, but that goes with the territory."

Cahalane's is a brilliant story. When he came on against Waterford in March, it was his first League appearance in over three years.

Secondary

He'd been to hell and back, told that he'd never play again because of a heart condition.

Cork selector Diarmuid O'Sullivan smiled: "There's a journey.

"Let's be honest, the game of hurling is secondary to what that man and his family went through.

" And you know what, whatever about Michael, I'd love to meet his mother and father right now.

"They must be the two proudest people here. His first chance, his first break of the ball, but Michael Cahalane has been doing that since he was 14 years of age.

"He was unbelievably unlucky not to start. But it's his mother and father, and the justification for the journey that lad and his family have been through.

"You know what? There's no better sight.

"There's no better feeling for that young fella right now."

They were written off before throw-in, but O'Sullivan felt that something big was coming from the Leesiders.

"I saw hurlers. I saw hurlers who can hurl and who have given us everything, everything we have asked and more over the last number of weeks, a team that has been written off and thrown to the side, 7/2 against 1/4.

"These men showed balls, they showed heart and you can't beat that.

Guys who've been around this group a long, long time gave everything. I couldn't be happier for them, I really couldn't.

"I've had success in my time but coming up here with this group, I couldn't be happier to be a Corkman at this moment in time."

Irish Independent

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