Boy in blue enjoys second coming
Niall Corcoran has made the most of his Dublin chance, writes Marie Crowe
BASKING in the glow of victory over Kilkenny, Niall Corcoran looks right at home in the Kilmacud Crokes clubhouse in Stillorgan. Although he's Galway born and bred, in the confines of his GAA club he's a Dublin man, one of their own.
Last Saturday night's game in O'Moore Park against Kilkenny proved to be a very special occasion for Dublin hurling. Anthony Daly's men recorded an historic three-point win over the All-Ireland champions; it was Dublin's first championship win over Kilkenny since 1942.
"When the final whistle blew I just felt relieved," says Corcoran.
"We'd finally won, finally beaten them, and got the cat off our back."
The previous week Dublin had drawn with the Cats, and of course there were plenty who assumed they had missed their chance, but for the Dublin players and management it was merely an indicator of where they were at and what they could achieve.
"We took great confidence from that draw because it was probably the first time we had competed against Kilkenny in championship and we really proved to ourselves that we could do it. The fear of failure was gone."
Going into the replay Dublin felt they had the beating of Kilkenny in certain areas of the pitch, they knew where to target and believed that if they increased their work-rate and intensity they would grind out a win.
When they met just over a week ago, again in O'Moore Park, Dublin were quick to lay down a marker, opening the scoring and establishing an early advantage. By the 26th minute, Kilkenny had made two substitutions and six tactical changes, they were clearly under pressure. Dublin went in at the break 0-11 0-7 ahead and although Daly shared some words of wisdom, it was the players who took charge of proceedings.
"We were the ones who stood up and outlined what needed to be done in the second half and then we followed through. And maybe that's what's been the difference this year; lads are stepping up to the marker and taking more responsibility."
Losing to Kilkenny last year and then crashing out of the qualifiers was a reality check for Anthony Daly's charges. Things had to change but it was up to the players to make it happen.
"We definitely got carried away with the hype last year in the build-up to games. We thought we were better than we were. But we are more realistic now in terms of where we are at. There is no talk this year about winning All-Irelands or Leinster titles; it's been all focused on the game ahead of us."
"After last year's disappointments we went back to basics and started enjoying it a bit more. All the lads are taking responsibility for making things happen; even down to the small things like eating right and sleeping right. They are simple things but they are important."
Corcoran is firmly established as a leader within the Dublin squad; he turns 31 this year and is one of the oldest members of the team. The fact that he is an outsider is not an issue; although he was nervous when he initially joined the squad, his team-mates accepted him from the outset. Corcoran had been around the block, worked hard and deserved his opportunity. He had something to offer Dublin and his team-mates could see that.
Interestingly, his inter-county career took off slightly later than most of his counterparts. Attempts to make the Galway hurling panel under Conor Hayes and Ger Loughnane were unsuccessful and at the time crushing.
"Not making the panel was a huge thing for me. I was 24 and I was thinking that it would never happen for me and if I hadn't made it at this stage I probably never would."
Although Corcoran's confidence was knocked and self-doubt had crept in, he refused to let his dreams of an inter-county career die. The disappointment he felt forced him to a look at what areas of his game he needed to work on.
"I had to look at myself first and see why I hadn't made it and what I had to work on. I always felt that if I got an opportunity to work on these things in the right environment or if I was exposed to the top level of competition then I could make it."
"I felt I wasn't physically where I needed to be. I'm a fit guy but there are other aspects of physical fitness that I needed to work on like strength and conditioning. My hurling needed improving too. I wouldn't have some of the same touches that the other lads had, but I worked hard at improving them."
So Corcoran made hurling his number one priority; in 2007 he had been working as a GAA coach with Kilmacud Crokes for two years when he decided to transfer to the south Dublin club. Leaving Meelick Eyrecourt was a tough decision but one that paid dividends.
At the end of the 2008 league, Tommy Naughton called him into the Dublin squad, and after a rocky start Corcoran found his feet and has since been a permanent fixture in Dublin's full-back line.
His career with Crokes flourished too and last October they were crowned Dublin county champions. However, soon after he was diagnosed with osteitis pubis, a condition that affects the pelvic area and he was out of action for most of the league.
"If I'm not playing I'm wondering why, I'm that type of player. We had a league game against Carlow and I didn't get a game when I thought I would. After it I was a bit down in myself but then you have to learn to keep going and driving on."
"It's not just about you but the whole squad and how you contribute to that. Not getting in team made me realise how much I love hurling and playing for Dublin and now I'm enjoying it more than ever."
But Corcoran didn't give up and he had reclaimed his starting spot by the latter stages of the league.
Today they play Galway in the Leinster final and although in the past Corcoran may have felt that he had a score to settle with his home county he's over that now.
"Looking back at the Galway thing, maybe at the time I wasn't good enough and whether I'm good enough or not now it doesn't bother me I'm happy to play with Dublin and hopefully I'll achieve with them too."