The midfield axis of Kearney, Cooper and Fitzgibbon is fuelling Cork's success

The midfield axis of Kearney, Cooper and Fitzgibbon is fuelling Cork's success
Darragh Fitzgibbon, left and Daniel Kearney celebrate. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

WHEN the new wave of Cork hurlers lit up Semple Stadium last summer, Daniel Kearney had to be content with a supporting role.

An injury picked up with Sars ruled the 28-year-old out of the Rebels' upset victory over Tipp and while he contributed from the bench after, it was a big change for an all-action hurler used to being at the heart of the team. 

This campaign has been very different, as Kearney, who was outstanding for Sars in the club championship last season and just missed out on a Rearden's All-Star, has been a key figure in every game. Named at wing-forward, he has often roved deep, covering the half-back line or supplementing the midfield.

As well as his obvious work-rate his scoring threat has been essential for John Meyler's side to the tune of 10 points from play, two of which came in Sunday's Munster final victory. 

Kearney concedes while 2017 was a bit frustrating, his absence opened the door for Darragh Fitzgibbon. 

"I wanted to get more game time last year but I'd a few injuries and that gave Darragh Fitzgibbon the chance to come in and what a player he's been for us. In midfield and in the half-forward line we've a lot of similar type of players who can work hard so we slot into different positions and I'm always happy to do that."

Now with Fitzgibbon, Kearney and Bill Cooper all in the middle third, Cork have both firepower and high energy in the sector. The trio have shot 0-29 from play between them. It's a huge contribution considering Conor Lehane, Shane Kingston and Luke Meade are only just ahead of them, with a combined 3-22 in total. 

Shane Kingston, Conor Lehane and Daniel Kearney after defeating Clare. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Shane Kingston, Conor Lehane and Daniel Kearney after defeating Clare. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Patrick Horgan, with 1-42, 1-16 from play, and Seamus Harnedy, 3-14 from play, remain the Rebels' go-to scorers of course. Every score was essential in reeling in the Banner.

"I'm delighted, coming off the back of last year when we were underdogs. It's a different dynamic when you're expected to win. We'd a lot of body blows across all the games but we absorbed the blows and that showed in the second half.

"We knew we didn't perform in the first half but we weren't surprised by the level of intensity Clare brought. They were hungry for silverware like ourselves and they were hurting over the last few years. Through experience we realised you'd to stick in the game, the goal before half-time was huge, but you'll always get your chances."

There was no magic formula at half-time. Cork just upped their intensity and backed themselves.

"It was very much about sticking to the game plan. We didn't change anything massively. We need to get a 70-minute performance but teams are so competitive at this level it's about limiting the other team's purple patches and maximising your own ones. 

"With experience, you know teams will get a run. There were a few sloppy goals we wouldn't be happy with but before half-time we weren't playing that badly. The key is not to panic. In the Munster championship you see teams coming back from 10 or 11 points down.

"Seamie had a big impact, setting up a goal and scoring one but we've big players who are always capable of that. Clare had steamrolled us in the first 20 minutes but we knew they wouldn't keep that level of intensity up."

This was Kearney's third Munster title. And perhaps the sweetest.

"This was one of the most satisfying ones because there was a lot of pressure to deliver after last year and still fellas write us off. Most people were tipping Clare to win and look that drives you on. We still mightn't be rated after today but we know if we bring our full ability we're a match for any team."

The other Cork warrior in the red helmet, Bill Cooper, agreed with Kearney's view. Even if the ultimate goal in the All-Ireland, a Munster medal is precious too.

"They're hard-fought, they're brilliant to win. People are talking about the provincial championships being changed but anyone who follows hurling closely knows that every game is very close. Supporters have got value for money in all the games this season. This year and last year are equally special and it's the same with 2014."

Few players in the Blood and Bandage epitomise the will to win more than Cooper. 

Bill Cooper with Cathal Malone. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Bill Cooper with Cathal Malone. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

"Our preparation showed when we'd our backs to the wall because we were able to kick on again. A lot of players have got game time in the league and championship and we were able to make changes when we were under pressure.

"Credit to Clare. They started fast. Our backs were to the rope because they really took the initiative but Meade's goal was huge for us, we were able to rally then before half-time. We got a few scores early in the second half and the crowd got behind us and we were able to keep our noses in front.

"Our forwards, if they can get space and the right ball they're deadly. It's about managing the game so that we create enough."

The Youghal native, who is 31 this year, feels they have a unified panel, with bainisteoir John Meyler continuing where Kieran Kingston left out.

"We're hugely grateful to the work Kieran did and thankfully John has come in after being a selector and built on that. Everyone has their own style but you just have to gel together and drive on and thankfully that's what has happened over the past few seasons."

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