Monday 20 November 2017

Pupil becoming the Rebel master as Joyce puts his teaching into practice

‘You can’t believe how quick it goes,’ says Christopher Joyce, who is in his seventh year on the Cork panel Photo: Sportsfile
‘You can’t believe how quick it goes,’ says Christopher Joyce, who is in his seventh year on the Cork panel Photo: Sportsfile

Jackie Cahill

Christopher Joyce grew up dreaming of becoming a Cork star, and he had a couple of notable trailblazers from his own club clearing a path.

Joyce was just seven years old when Na Piarsaigh's Seán Óg Ó hAilpín won the first of his three All-Ireland senior medals with the Rebels in 1999.

In 2004 and '05, Ó hAilpín was joined by clubmate John Gardiner to form two-thirds of a half-back line that played such a key part in the Rebels' success.

Learning his trade, Joyce watched, learned and progressed patiently through the ranks.

When he was U-14, Na Piarsaigh won the All Ireland Féile title and Joyce starred in the half-back line alongside Keith Buckley and Adam Dennehy.

They would play together for Cork at U-14, U-16 and minor, while Pa O'Rourke and Eoin Moynihan were other club stars who represented the county in their formative years.

When Joyce made his senior club debut, he was named at centre-back. To his right was Gardiner, and to his left, Ó hAilpín.

Rather than being overawed, Joyce revelled in it and the trio remain close to this very day.

Ó hAilpín would provide Joyce with advice on diet and general fitness, with Gardiner focusing on positional sense and hurling skills.

They're still there as sounding boards for Joyce, Ó hAilpín with Na Piarsaigh in a coaching capacity, and while Gardiner moved to Florida with his wife, he texts a good luck wish before every big game.

Joyce's phone is sure to buzz tomorrow morning with a message from America.

But the habit of producing such good defenders through the years has been a double-edged sword for Na Piarsaigh, as Joyce explains: "Every player growing up, besides this year's minors, has been a defender.

"And that is because they were watching the boys growing up. It is great to see the lads on the minor team this year are forwards. Seán Óg and John were everybody's heroes growing up."

Change is coming as three of the Cork team that will line out in tomorrow's Munster minor final against Clare are offensive Na Piarsaigh players - dynamic midfielder Daire Connery and forwards Craig Hanafin and Evan Sheehan.

After that curtain-raiser, Joyce and his senior colleagues will look to seal a first provincial crown since 2014.

These are good days for 25-year-old Joyce. He made his Championship debut in the 2012 qualifiers but missed the remainder of the campaign with a broken thumb.

In 2015, he was struck down with cruciate knee ligament damage but returned last year and has suffered no fresh setbacks.

He reflects: "When I did my knee, I used to go training and it was not the same. So, when I came back last year, I put in a ferocious amount of work, probably over-worked. I think I tired myself out before the end of the year. But now I'm feeling fine, I'm feeling fresh."

Joyce's mentality is reflected in the performances of the Cork team this summer. Fresh, young, hungry and vibrant, the Rebels have produced two outstanding displays to see off All-Ireland champions Tipperary and Waterford.

"We're trying to play our game, whereas, in the past, we would have focused on other teams," says Joyce. "We are solely focused on ourselves."

But Joyce recognises almost a carbon copy of Cork presenting itself tomorrow, in the form of Clare. Both teams like to play open, expansive hurling, with their game-plans based around pace, movement and the creation of chances.

It's expected to be a shoot-out.

Cork know what to expect, having faced Clare in a challenge game before facing Tipp in May. Both teams were at pretty much full-strength, and Clare dished out a hurling lesson.

"We couldn't handle them that night," says Joyce. "They beat us well. We have a lot to do.

"This Clare team are much further down the road than we are," says Joyce. "They have shown much more consistency in the last few years than we have, they have won a National League and that takes massive consistency.

"They do have huge belief in their game-plan, they give and go, they move. They are favourites. What have we done? We have won two games.

"These guys have been playing in finals, they have shown great consistency."

Cork will play it as they see it but if they're behind going down the home straight, that presents a new challenge.

"If something goes wrong, can we stick to it, can we show that consistency?" asks Joyce.

After Cork shocked Tipp in May, Conor Lehane offered an insight into the team's recent mentality, saying it was time to stop "farting around" and "going through the motions."

"Exactly," agrees Joyce. "This is my seventh year on the panel. You can't believe how quick it goes. Every year you don't win something is a waste, for all the training you are doing. It is massive dedication.

"We love doing it, but we want to win. We want to be consistent and play in the big games.

"This is what every player wants to play in, a Munster final. We don't want to be in the qualifiers."

Irish Independent

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