The big interview with Robert Downey: You've pucked a hundred big games for Cork against the wall before you ever pull on the jersey

The big interview with Robert Downey: You've pucked a hundred big games for Cork against the wall before you ever pull on the jersey
Robert Downey at the Bord Gáis Energy GAA Hurling U20 finals launch. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

THOUGH he’s a lot of top-level hurling done already for Glen Rovers and Cork, Robert Downey appreciates every time he steps on the field for club and county.

The towering defender has the stature of a basketballer but the small-ball game has always consumed him. While he doesn’t turn 20 until September, he’s packed a lot into the last few years.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

He captained the Glen minors to a county, lined out in an All-Ireland at Croke Park, competed in the Harty Cup with Christians and started at wing-back in three senior games this summer, including a memorable debut when he foiled Limerick’s Gearóid Hegarty.

Tomorrow evening he returns to Thurles when Cork captured a Munster minor crown, this time in the Bord Gáis Energy U20 provincial decider. Tipp blitzed Waterford in their semi-final, the Rebels ground out victories over Limerick and Clare.

“It is what you dream about. Winning county titles with your club and Munster and All-Ireland titles with Cork. It’s an absolute honour to have played in Thurles and Croke Park. You only pull on a Cork jersey for a period of time and you have to leave it in the best possible way for the next players.

“You get up in the morning and you’re out against the wall pucking and you’ve hurled a hundred All-Irelands against the wall before you get near one.”

Robert Downey in the 2017 All-Ireland final. 
Robert Downey in the 2017 All-Ireland final. 

With Kilkenny stunning Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final, the U20s are the last (young) men standing for Cork hurling. Whether Denis Ring’s team win or lose in Semple Stadium, they’ll meet Kilkenny or Wexford in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Downey taking on Clare.
Downey taking on Clare.

“We wouldn’t even be thinking that we’re the last Cork team left. We’ll just look after our own patch. It’s only another game. We’ll try and get the small jobs right, focus on the basics and hopefully come away with a win.

“We played our last two games in Páirc Uí Rinn and it was ideal. Only a week apart and we always train there but traditionally Cork teams love going up to Thurles too. It’s the best pitch in Ireland. We’re delighted to be in a Munster final and we’ve forwards who love the space up there.

“It might not be that big a pitch but it plays big and there are pockets of space you find. Páirc Uí Rinn plays very tight. Johnny Dwyer was saying to us it’s the same size as Páirc Uí Chaoimh but with the stand so close in, Páirc Uí Rinn doesn’t seem to have as much green grass. The noise, the crowd, it makes it feel like someone is on top of you the whole time. Whatever about the pitch, you can never use that as an excuse.”

Excuses aren’t what this crop of talented young hurlers want to deal in. They were pipped by Galway in the minor in 2017 when Downey was a target-man rather than his regular half-back slot, but have a host of serious players from Ger Collins, James Keating and Downey, up to Daire Connery, Shane O’Regan and Brian Turnbull.

Downey has huge time for the U20 management group, especially their coach John Dwyer.

“I’d be very close with Johnny, he’s had a word in my ear plenty of times over the last few years and he’s an unbelievable coach and motivator. He’s got man-to-man personal skills, so he’s kinda like one of the players but still gives out to you when needs be.

Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Picture: Jim Coughlan.

“He’s that knack of giving out to you but you don’t take it to heart. He brings everyone on with his sessions, your touch is crisper, you’re half a second faster doing things. Class.”

The skyscraping wing-back took a call last winter from senior manager John Meyler, calling him up to the panel for this season, but had established a connection in CBC with selector Donal O’Mahony.

“I was in Christians since primary school but I got to know Donie from first year. He was brilliant from then on. He’s a top man and is great for advice. Tony Wall was in Christians too and in the Glen minor team.

Picture: Don Moloney/Press 22
Picture: Don Moloney/Press 22

“I was in third year and we were in a Munster B final and myself, Eoin Moloney from Midleton, plus Robbie O’Flynn, Billy Hennessy and Michael O’Halloran. Schools hurling is a different animal, mud up to your ankles, a lot more rucks and very physical but the Harty is brilliant because it gets you used to the pressure of big games.”

His parents Angela and Paul, whose father provided the height, offer great support but “no pressure” for Robert and his younger brothers Eoin and Tom. He’s also indebted to the club crew that guided him since U8s.

“We had Mark Kennefick, Simon’s father, Mick Byrne, Peter Kelleher — who is Richie the senior manager’s brother — and Des Cullinane. And a few others. They took us all the way up to minor.

“We lost an U16 county final against Piarsaigh at Páirc Uí Rinn but we were always told that minor is the first big one, not U14, U15 and U16. The thing was just to be competitive, in the top four. The Glen is a proud club and there’s a lot expected of you but you’ve to accept that. It’s not being cocky but the Glen have massive history.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“We were underdogs at minor and it was great to win for the selectors too. I’m still very close to Mark Kennefick and Mick Byrne because I’d be great friends with Simon and Rory (Byrne). I always call over to their houses.”

While Patrick Horgan and Stephen McDonnell were obvious inspirations for the Arts student in UCC, who next year will study economics and geography, his role model is a Cat.

“JJ Delaney. The best defender who ever played. Tommy Walsh was unreal too but JJ could do everything. The hook he did on Seamus Callanan. I always looked up to him. I got a black helmet because he had one and I got a black wristband for a while because he had one. He was unbelievable in the air, the knack of getting in around you, and he was teak-tough on the ground.”

Picture: Dá¡re Brennan/SPORTSFILE
Picture: Dá¡re Brennan/SPORTSFILE

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