O hAilpin: Very few managers would have given me call
Sean Og O hAilpin is convinced only three managers would have picked up a phone and invited him to restart his career as a Cork hurler last October.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy is obviously one, but O hAilpin is sure that only Donal O'Grady and John Allen, the other managers under whom he won his All-Ireland titles, would have offered him a way back.
No one else, he is convinced, would have taken a punt on him.
"Jimmy was probably one of three managers that I can think of that would have given me a call. I don't think there were other guys, had they got the job, that would gone the route of going into the past. They would have gone the route of looking to the future," he said yesterday.
O hAilpin, now 35, admits his comeback may only last this season, but if that's the case, it will still have been worth it.
He concedes that the going has been tough, however.
"The mind wants to go places, but the body is not bringing you there at times. My own form has been erratic -- I was taken off against Tipperary in the semi-final of the league," he said.
"It's all a learning experience for me, even at this stage, but I'm just thankful that I have got a second chance.
"I just go with the flow, if you are picked, you are picked and do your best; if not you are just part of the panel and you try to encourage everybody."
The league final defeat to Kilkenny was a chastening experience, one he's not sure the 2004/2005 side would have been able to recover from.
"A league final defeat like that back in 2005 or 2006, when the team was mature, would have been an awful battering to the ego, but that team is there no longer. There are new faces there, so I think there's an expectation that we're going to have to take the rough with the smooth.
"That was the rough, but, hopefully, in time, when the building blocks are put down this year and the next couple of years under Jimmy Barry-Murphy, when these guys become more mature and more experienced as a playing group, you would start to see a good level of consistency.
"At the minute it is probably going to be erratic, up and down. This is because we're just trying to fine-tune, but the biggest learning experience for me is that if anyone thought the black and amber were waning, they're not."
O hAilpin has been on the receiving end of bad defeats like it in the earlier part of his career.
The 16-point 1996 Munster championship defeat to Limerick in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, his championship debut, was one of Cork's most humiliating defeats ever, while the 1998 Munster semi-final loss to Clare in Thurles was another sobering afternoon from which there was no quick fix.
"That was us gone out of the championship. We had to wait another 12 months. Thankfully, we have five to six weeks to make amends and I have no doubt that the panel and the management have resolved to turn things around," he says.
"We've probably exceeded expectations for the league campaign. If someone had told us in the Rochestown Park when we all met back in November that we'd be in the league final, I would have laughed because basically we were being hammered by double digits.
"Ultimately we're going to be assessed on June 24 (when they play the winners of Tipperary and Limerick). Not many people down home would like me saying it, but the league is a means to an end. The championship is the main one.
"I could name you championship-winning teams from Cork, but I could barely tell you the league titles we've won. I think that's not only in Cork, but everywhere. June 24 is D-Day."
O hAilpin (below) says he can identify with the contention of former Offaly hurler Daithi Regan last week that this Cork team may have to lose an All-Ireland final before they win one.
"A developing side like this -- all I can do is compare it with my own playing days. In 1999, when we won, that didn't happen overnight. We took hammerings from Limerick initially and then Clare.
"You would be coming home as a young 20-year-old and saying 'oh man.' You were growing up to believe you would be winning All-Irelands every two or three years in a Cork jersey. It happened in 1999, but there were a few harsh days before that."
• Ulster Bank, an official sponsor of the GAA All-Ireland SFC, is offering 25pc cash-back on GAA match tickets booked through 'ufirst' and 'ufirstgold' current accounts, saving GAA fans up to €20 for a family of four per match.