FORMER Cork football star Noel O’Leary has urged the current Cork footballers to “be positive and compete to the best of their ability” when they entertain Kerry in the Munster final this Saturday evening.
The last time the Cork senior footballers reigned supreme in Munster was in 2012, when Noel and his colleagues defeated Clare to capture the cup for the 37th time in their history.
Cork had defeated Kerry by five points in that year’s Munster semi-final.
Noel has great memories of their last Munster final triumph.
“Any time you get over the line in a Munster final is great. It is a hard competition to win.
“We enjoyed great success and we will always treasure those great days,” declared the Cill na Martra club man.
Kerry have dominated the Munster Senior Football Championship in recent years.
The Kingdom outfit have won the Munster championship title eight times in the last nine years, but Noel is hopeful the current Cork players can enjoy success in the foreseeable future.
“Things have changed a lot from my time. Success tends to come in cycles,” he said.
“Cork football has gone through a lot of transformation in recent years. Seven years without winning a Munster final is a long time. However, nothing lasts forever and hopefully we can spring a surprise this Saturday evening.”
Ballydesmond forward Donncha O’Connor played a key role in helping the Rebels defeat Kerry in the Munster Championship semi-final.
The ace forward struck six points in their win and Noel remembers with great affection his display in that famous win.
“His football brain was brilliant. He was always a step ahead. He is one of the best forwards to have ever played for Cork,” he said.
“His link-up play and temperament were ideal for the big occasion. He always relished playing against Kerry. He played a huge part in our great win against Kerry in 2012.”
O’Leary played in a plethora of Munster finals against Kerry during his stellar inter-county career. The Muskerry player always enjoyed the derby encounters against their old rivals.
“I loved the games. There was always a great atmosphere. I miss these games and the big occasion.
“There was always huge pressure coming into Cork and Kerry games. Some players thrived on that, while some lads suffered.
“I was lucky to have played on a great team who enjoyed a lot of Munster final success. Playing in the big occasions was why we trained so hard.
“I was fortunate to have played with great players, but I also played against a lot of great players,” O’Leary added.
“Kerry during that time were a very strong team with some very good players. We always had to be at our best to beat them.
“There was a lot of respect between the two teams. The games were played in a tough manner. There was no quarter given. Winning the physical battles against Kerry is always vital.”
The defensive ace, who still plays club football with his beloved Cill na Martra, played a big part in helping that Cork team under Conor Counihan achieve so much success both in Munster and on the national stage.
“We had a squad full of leaders and strong men. We had very talented footballers who could also mix it physically,” he said.
“We had a very solid panel, full of level-headed guys. Cork have struggled to replace these players.
“We had a lot of natural leaders and experienced players who inspired Cork footballers to great heights.
“Hopefully Cork football is turning the corner and we will enjoy success again. It takes time for players to get used to senior football.
“The players and management team are putting in a huge effort. They need our support.
“Ronan has instilled a great culture which is very positive and vital. It is great to see new players coming through.
“The general public want to see a strong performance. I am not ruling out a Cork win, but I hope to see a performance.
“It is vital we compete for the 70 minutes. The wheel will turn. I think Cork football is in a good place again.
“The structures are good. Our underage teams have impressed this year. We have very good players and hopefully they can produce a strong display this Saturday.”
The Cork senior footballers comfortably defeated Limerick in the Munster semi-final to seal their Munster final berth. He was very impressed with their performance.
“It was a professional performance. They started well and produced a very impressive display. A lot of the young lads did well. Cork seem to have a nice blend of youth and lads with a bit of stature.
“Nathan Walsh, Liam O’Donovan, and Eoghan McSweeney greatly impressed. It is all about taking positive steps forward.”
Castlehaven ace full-forward Brian Hurley netted a brace of goals against the Treaty County. Noel is delighted to see Brian back to full fitness.
“He is a great player. He has a real love of football. He deserves great credit for battling back. Hopefully he will play well against Kerry. He will be one of our key men.”
Ruairí Deane also shone against Limerick and Noel is a big fan of the Bantry Blues player.
“He has been very consistent in recent years. He is a strong, physical player.
“He can pose problems for Kerry. Hopefully he will produce a big display in the Munster final.”