CORK footballers have come a long way in just two seasons.
From the lows of conceding 6-38 to Kerry and Tyrone in the space of a fortnight in the 2018 summer they’re now 70 minutes away from being crowned Munster champions.
Captain Ian Maguire recalled the Tyrone experience in the build-up to Sunday’s final against Tipperary at Pairc Ui Chaoimh at 1.30.
“I remember seeing Fintan Goold after the game and I couldn’t look at him because I felt so embarrassed,” the St Finbarr’s midfielder said.
“I was thinking ‘where are we going from here?’ after getting manhandled by Tyrone, who were laughing at us.
“Fintan was the first player I roomed with and I remember him saying something like ‘keep the head up’ but I couldn’t even look at him. That’s one memory I have and I don’t want that to happen again.”
Maguire has also been involved in much tighter games like losing by a point to Mayo after extra-time in 2017 and going down by the same margin on his debut three years before. When shooting the breeze with Michael Shields they tried to come up with the answer as to ‘why we’re not getting over the line?’
“I mean we were being called nearly-men and this is the worst possible thing you could be labelled as a player or as a team.
“There are a lot of factors. Against Kerry I thought our game management was as good as in any other game.
“It was a very cagey affair and yet we showed incredible discipline to not give away frees in scoring areas which I thought was very important.
“We’ve always had self-belief though that can be challenged after tough losses like Kerry and Tyrone.
“We always bounce back, though, and whether it’s the extra conditioning, the extra coaching with Cian O’Neill or that mentality we built on from the Super 8s which got us over the line, I don’t know. I think you learn from all the experiences.
“I woke up Monday morning with a smile on my face for the first time in a while and my mother and father were also delighted because they’re sick seeing me sulk after games,” Maguire commented.
The skipper was full of optimism going into the Kerry game.
“We had a very good league, even though Covid disrupted that. We also had a very good camp before Covid started.
“There was still a togetherness and a residue from the end of the league. We knew we had a very good team and things were going well.
“We had a very good plan and everyone knew what they had to do. Ok it took a bit of luck, but sometimes you need that to get over the line.”
Now, it’s the familiar sight of Tipp who stand in Cork’s way of much-needed silverware and Maguire recognised the challenge that awaits.
“I feel I’ve been playing against Tipp midfielder Steven O’Brien every year since 2011, minor, U21 and senior.
“And a lot of those Tipp players are around my age, fellows like Jimmy Feehan and Bill Maher. I went to college with some of them like Michael Quinlivan, who is a very good player.
“We’ve played some tough games against Tipp and we know what’s ahead of us because they have some super players.
“Tipp are a physical, tough team with real talent going forward. They’re very big around the middle and have plenty of experience.
“Another factor is their ability to get goals, which is a good sign of a team. Conor Sweeney, Quinlivan and Jack Kennedy are big players with underage success similar to us.
“David Power has them well organised and they play with a chip on their shoulder. You always know you’ve been in a game with Tipp because they always bring a lot of energy to their performances.
“I thought they were dead and buried against Limerick but came out and scored 1-5."