COLM SPILLANE’S first memories of supporting the Rebels are 1999.
He had club man Timmy McCarthy to idolise in the red geansaí and it was a vintage campaign, Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s young guns blasting their way to Munster and All-Ireland glory. That lit a fuse in the then six-year-old, whose family adore the greatest game of them all. It carried through with Castlelyons, into St Colman’s and UCC, and now the Blood and Bandage.
“It was always a dream of mine to play for Cork and, I know it’s a cliché, but every time you put on that Cork jersey it’s a privilege. That buzz you get from playing championship, meeting people on the streets, in Castlelyons, where I teach, even in Cork city sometimes, them wishing you the best of luck... you get great satisfaction from that.
“Cork has always been a real hurling county and people love their hurling and love their hurlers. It gives everyone a boost.
“I’d say 1999 (stands out). I remember the All-Ireland in the rain. That was the first and we’d a vested interest in it because Timmy Mac was playing. They’re special occasions.”
Spillane only turns 25 this week, the day of the Munster final incidentally, but he thought he’d missed his chance at the top level after a cruciate knee injury two years ago.
“Really when I came back on the panel in 2016 I felt it was my chance and that I was going fairly well. I was unfortunate I did my cruciate down here against Waterford in the league.
“You do think when you’re out injured and you’re getting a bit of older you might have just missed the boat. Kieran (Kingston) had great fate in me, he told me he believed in me and he wanted me to be on the team.
“I was delighted last year to make my championship debut and once you get a taste for it it’s not something you want to give up easily. It takes it a while to put an injury behind you because you know the consequences, being out for a year. Once you’ve your rehab done and you get used to it you don’t think about it again.”
The new format, with four games in the Munster series alone, is a test of fitness and athleticism.
“I do work on my flexibility, my durability and my strength in the core. I learned when I was younger one of the best abilities you can have is your availability. If you’re training the whole time and playing matches you’re improving as a player.
“The temptation is to do too much maybe. Especially when you might only have a 30-minute session down the pitch and you feel you should be doing a bit more. The recovery aspect is a big difference over the past few years.”
While the championship has been updated the goal is the same, to deliver on the big stage of the provincial final in front of an expectant Cork public.
“We play for pressure. There’s pressure in championship games and even more in a Munster final. Pressure is a privilege. If you weren’t feeling pressure you wouldn’t be where you want to be. You look forward to it.”
The pomp and passion of a Munster decider is what Spillane lived for when he was younger. By the time he progressed to second level Cork were in the midst of a run of making four All-Ireland finals in succession and along with his younger brother Anthony became a key hurler for St Colman’s, where he now teaches PE and maths.
“Colman’s has a massive hurling tradition. I was there for six years so there was no getting away from that.
“When I was younger my father and brothers had a huge influence on me. We were all hurling mad. That led into Colman’s. I’ve always loved the game and always been surrounded by it.”
Being in the storied institution, Spillane came up against some now familiar foes who were then playing for St Flannan’s.
“We won the White Cup at U15. We beat Flannan’s in the White Cup final and you had the likes of Tony Kelly, Shane O’Donnell, Peter Duggan, all those fellas. It’s funny to be playing them now in Munster finals.
“Tony Kelly, especially, was a standout. You were hearing about him when you went into secondary school.”
Because of his own hurling background, the dynamic corner-back appreciates the influence he can have in his own parish. He's certainly delivered for his club, picking up Man of the Match awards when they were county champions at minor and U21.
“When I was younger it helped (having Timmy McCarthy in the area). You have that belief then when you see someone from a small place like Castlelyons playing for the Cork senior hurlers.
“Maybe when I’m down the pitch and fellas see me there, they’ve more interest in Castlelyons and belief they could play with Cork.”
As his primary duty is minding the house, he got serious satisfaction from landing a monster point from out the field to put Cork two up in the last game against Waterford.
“You’d be lying if you said it wasn’t nice. You try to do everything you can to help the team, whether it’s defending, marking a man, spoiling, receiving short puck-outs, trying to pick out a man.
“If the opportunity comes to score and you think it’s the right option you have to go for it. Obviously it’s nice to put over a point because the forwards always get the joy of scoring.”
Though his grá is for hurling, Spillane also has a soft spot for the NBA.
“I enjoy watching the World Cup but basketball is my favourite sport apart from hurling, though I never played it properly. I like to shoot around alright. I love watching the NBA.”