'Final loss will scar me for life'
Veteran Tipp stopper Brendan Cummins admits he'll never get over Cats mauling
If Brendan Cummins could submit his entire hurling career to X-ray, he knows that defeat in last September's All-Ireland hurling final will have left the most indelible scar.
Regardless of what happens in the remainder of what is now the dying light of a great career, Cummins knows that the manner of how they lost their All-Ireland title to Kilkenny will extract the biggest debit.
Ask him how long it took to accept the defeat and he assures you the process is still very much in progress.
Not days, not even weeks or months. Not years. Life. "I think the scar of that will remain for life, to be honest," he reflected candidly.
Cummins even finds it difficult to accept they were as close to Kilkenny as the scoreline would suggest. It never felt like a four-point defeat.
"If you didn't know what the score was in this year's All-Ireland final you'd say Kilkenny won it by eight or nine points," admitted Cummins at an AIB skills initiative launch yesterday.
"The manner in which we got beat was the hardest thing that I struggled with. You get beaten a lot more than you win but, while Kilkenny did smother us on the day, I just felt that we didn't really show up for the first half. At no stage did we look like we were going to win the match.
"That we put so much into this thing and then suddenly it took us 16 and a half minutes to score. We all did things which were out of our character on the day and that would disappoint you more than a normal defeat."
Nothing had prepared him for it, nothing in their make up had suggested beforehand that they could offer up so little.
"Like I said, the build-up to the game was all about 2001 and how we didn't cope in 2002 but I think we had coped well all year. Then that day Kilkenny hit us with everything and we were on the back foot and seemed to be holding on for dear life hoping something would happen rather than trying to make it happen. That's disappointing for a year's work. That's behind us now."
Three months on and Cummins has reconciled to making himself available for another year at least, if Declan Ryan requires him.
It wasn't always straightforward, however. At various points of the season Cummins, now 36, figured 2011 would be his last in a Tipperary shirt.
"Throughout the year I probably thought that it could be the last 12 months.
"When you are as old as I am, you start asking what is going to happen in the next 12 months that might make a difference in your life, even when you are as fit as I am.
"Certainly going down to the lobby (in the Burlington Hotel) the morning after the All-Ireland, I didn't want to talk to anybody because there would all be that talk about what is happening next year. It can be a bit tricky wondering will this be the last one but you have to focus on the game."
He'd be entitled to a break if he sought one but that has never been his way. Age or length of service has never left him feeling he has a sense of entitlement.
"If I am going back next year it will be in Dr Morris Park with the rest of the fellas in the muck because it will tell me that this is what I want.
"I don't want to be sitting in a hot gym looking out at the lads just because I've done it so many times. I don't think that's fair. I do what everyone else does and the day I can't is the day I stay at home.
"I don't think any player can sit at home expecting to get a phone call saying, 'you are going to be playing next June in the championship.' You have to earn that right every year and that is what has helped me in terms of my longevity, in that I don't take anything for granted.
"I got the kick in the backside in 2007 as well so I know what it is like on the other side of the fence and it is not pretty. The day that you can't go out and train is the day that you just pack it in because the young fella coming in trying to take your place is doing all the things that he should be."
In the off-season, Cummins continues to take to running a mountain near his home in south Tipperary, a journey he would take even if the goal of reaching a September summit wasn't there for him anyway.
"I'd do 10 or 15 miles up there when I'm not hurling with Tipp," he said.
"I'm not running up the mountain preparing for next year's All-Ireland final. I'm doing it because I've always wanted to stay fit and healthy and that's what I'll always do while I have the energy to get up there."