WHILE championship is always the priority, it's been a mixed year so far for the Cork footballers.
Their dominant display in beating Tipp in Thurles was an obvious high, but the Rebels' Division 2 league campaign was a disappointment. They head into Saturday's Munster final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh buoyed by their Munster semi-final victory, though there are still doubts about their ability to cope with Kerry.
For wing-back Tomás Clancy, the campaign has been an enjoyable one to date. The Fermoy man has been a mainstay of the side under new boss Ronan McCarthy, who he explains has kept his charges on an even keel since January, which has helped them concentrate on the positives.
"All year Ronan has had a positive attitude which has rubbed off on us because we’ve been very hard on ourselves, always looking at the negatives. I found that myself, I was trying to get the most out of myself but I was thinking about it too much.
"Ronan wants us to express ourselves. He tells us not to be afraid to make mistakes as long as we’re trying to do the right thing.
"We felt good heading into the Tipp game. We just focused on having ourselves right. We didn’t get too caught up in what they might do. It was all about ourselves and that will continue to be the theme. We’ve started from scratch again really and it’s working.
"He said from the start that his message wasn’t going to change. He’s hammered home the key points all the time and we’ve been following that. Even in games where it might not have gone the way we wanted."
While Cork didn't get promoted from Division 2 they were without the Nemo crew and Kanturk's Aidan Walsh, due to club commitments, as well as the injured Brian Hurley and Seán Powter. With a stronger panel available, the Rebels were able to go full tilt for the provincial opener.
Clancy, who turns 27 shortly, has learned to pace himself better over a year. He never played minor for Cork and had one year as a back up for the U21s, as well as a run with the junior side that lifted the 2011 All-Ireland, as a corner-forward. It was UCC, through Sigerson Cup and county championship runs, he made his name.
"I had to find what worked for me and I’m always learning a bit more about myself. You have to make sure you’re right for the training sessions every night because they’re highly competitive.
"Every year there are new players coming in who are chomping at the bit and they’re hugely enthusiastic. When I came in first I was probably known for being all-out attack and I’ve had to develop the defensive side of my game and how to read the play. You figure that out through games really. You listen to the manager and his core message but between the white lines it’s up to you."
Having just completed a research PhD in chemistry, he'll take up a job with Stryker at the end of the summer. That means football can take centre stage. Like many in his position, Clancy cites Lee Keegan and Jack McCaffrey as the best in the business, but he enjoys the strategic side of the game as much as raiding down the flanks.
"I don’t mind the blanket defence because it’s tactical and your game-management and decision-making are big parts of it. There’s a lot of unselfish running because you could be driving to the end line without the ball to create a hole for someone else.
"Ronan doesn’t have a strict structure. There are guidelines but you can’t be robotic because if you are you can’t adapt on the field to what’s thrown up. You need to communicate between the lines on the field and figure it out yourselves."
A host of Rebels stepped up against Tipp, including top-scorer Luke Connolly, but Clancy felt the fitness and drives of Ruairí Deane, Ian Maguire and Aidan Walsh was especially influential.
"Ruairí was phenomenal the last day, he was a standout but you’ve Walshie as well, his legs in midfield and the engine he has and he does a lot of donkey work. He might turn a fella back and it gives the defence the time to get set. It might not show up in a stat as a turnover or a possession but it’s just as important.
"That type of team defence is the foundation for any successful side."
The true test of that will be in the Páirc this Saturday evening.
"At the end of the day, we’ve plenty of work to keep us busy but we want to enjoy it because you can’t let the occasion get to you. It’s a huge game, the first night down the Páirc but we’re hoping to feed off the atmosphere."