Kearney - 'I'm not biggest or most physical'
Saturday Interview: Diminutive midfielder hails JBM for looking beyond measuring tape
Daniel Kearney is asked to reflect on the burgeoning rivalry between these Cork and Clare teams that has moved through the gears over the last eight months.
There is much to recall: match-ups, trends, scores, permutations. But what Kearney can't get out of his head is traffic!
On the night the sides met for the first time this year – in a Waterford Crystal Cup match in Sixmilebridge – many of the Cork players got stuck in gridlock caused by an oil spill on the motorway on the far side of the tunnel taking traffic under the river Shannon. Chaos ensued.
"We had travelled too far on the motorway, got caught in the traffic and couldn't get off," Kearney recalls.
"It was the worst jam I've ever seen. We couldn't go left or right, backwards or forwards."
The match, scheduled for 7.45, was put back to 8.15 and eventually started at 8.30.
Kearney was travelling with Conor O'Sullivan, Cian McCarthy, Stephen McDonnell and Stephen Moylan, and eventually saw some game time in the second half.
"Stephen McDonnell was the only one who didn't get a run and he's giving out about it to this day," laughs Kearney.
Negotiating traffic is something he has made an art of on the hurling field with Cork over the last two seasons.
His dimensions are somewhat at odds with the perception of the direction inter-county hurling is taking. At 5'9" and 11st 7lbs he will be the smallest and lightest Cork player on the field tomorrow, weighing in on equal terms with Jamie Coughlan and Lorcan McLoughlin but conceding inches.
On the opposite side, Podge Collins' tape measurements will be even less. Two saplings in a growing forest of oaks.
His emergence on the Sarsfields team was in parallel with 'Cha' Fitzpatrick's decision to retire from inter-county hurling with Kilkenny at the age of 26 two years ago.
He recalls listening to one of the fundamental reasons offered by Fitzpatrick as to why he no longer saw a place for himself in the modern game and it struck a chord.
"I read some quote where he said he couldn't keep chasing Michael Fennelly up and down the pitch. It was a bit disheartening when you saw a similar player to yourself saying he wasn't able for it anymore," he recalls.
"But it's the game I love. You look at the O'Connors (Ben and Jerry). Not saying I'd be like Jerry O'Connor but he'd have a similar game in that he's a skilful player, a fast player, gets on loose ball and does his thing with it. Whenever I get an opportunity to play, that's what I do."
He comes across as relaxed about what he does.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy admits he "took a shine" to him from the moment he saw him on a Sarsfields team that has emerged in recent years as the dominant force on Leeside.
Kearney embodies JBM's idea of a Cork hurler.
"I liked his style of play," the manager reveals. "I loved his skill level and he has a great engine to get up and down the field. He was a player I thought would make it at inter-county level, for sure.
"It's often said how the modern game had gone towards strength. Obviously if a strong guy is good enough he gets picked as well.
"I just love the skill level that Danny brought. He's a different type of midfielder than what has been the norm in the last few years but he's a typical Cork hurler in many ways, very high skill level, very dedicated.
"I was thinking 'Cork hurler' straight away when I saw him. I loved his attitude, he's a hardy young fella, plenty of guts about him, gets up and gets on with the game, a ball of energy."
Kearney appreciates that a different manager might not have looked at him in the same way. He knows he caught a break from someone who appreciates style over strength.
"When Jimmy first came in... he had said before that he likes fast, skilful players and maybe I kind of fitted that. I wouldn't be the biggest, nor the most physical and if it had been another manager I mightn't have got the call at all," he concedes.
It was the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kilkenny where he left his biggest mark in a red shirt, in the company of Fennelly and Eoin Larkin initially.
The league match in Nowlan Park earlier in the year, he feels, was the grounding for that.
"You were going to Nowlan Park playing probably the best team of all time, you were in the back of your head saying, 'we are going to be up against it here'.
"But I did reasonably okay that day. I thought 'I can play against these fellas' and that league game gave me a lot of confidence for the championship match," he says.
"In Thurles we just tore into them, all of us. Every player that day took the game to them and that was huge."
He admits that the element of negativity that lapped up around the squad in the early part of the year after defections and departures was impossible to avoid.
"There was a lot of negativity surrounding Cork hurling. It's hard for you not to feel that and definitely when we were in pre-season we were missing so many big players from last year," he says.
"But it was out of our hands – you could only do it with what you had. When those players went we then realised that we had to step up and we were the people now that had to take the reins and take it by the scruff of the neck and had to start performing and winning matches for Cork," he says.
The emergence of Sarsfields has been his catalyst, preparing him for high-pressure games.
"We've got to four of the last five county finals and all those big games, they bring huge pressure," he says.
"There are so many people counting on you, wanting you to win. That has been a huge help in my development anyway, getting used to the high-pressure games, getting noticed, dealing with the expectation.
"You win one as the underdog and that's a lot easier, but then people start expecting you to win.
"That's what makes Kilkenny such a great team. They were expected to beat everyone, every day, and they kept on doing it. Getting used to winning is very important."
Especially when your colour is red.