THE Munster is special to Paul Kerrigan.
The Kerrigan family is steeped in Cork and Munster football tradition with father and son combination Jimmy and Paul claiming seven provincial titles between them.
Recently retired from the inter-county scene, Paul Kerrigan has no hesitation in recalling two specific provincial deciders in which Cork got the better of their arch-rivals from across the border.
The Nemo Rangers stalwart was 12-years-old when Kerry arrived on Leeside for the 1999 Munster decider. A packed Páirc Uí Chaoimh and incessant rain greeted a Kingdom side that had been crowned All-Ireland champions two years before.
It proved to be Cork’s day however, as Fachtna Collins and Fionán Murray goals helped secure a memorable 2-10 to 2-4 win. Meath would deny Cork an All-Ireland that same year but the 1999 Munster final memory has never left Kerrigan’s memory.
“I can remember going down to Killarney the night before Munster finals when I was very young,” Kerrigan told.
“Back then, I’d stay in a hotel with my mam and dad and not necessarily go to the match itself. I’d have watched it on TV in the hotel on the day.
“I remember travelling to that game with my dad and getting out on to the pitch afterwards when Cork had won. That was a great day and probably the Munster final I remember the most.”
Nine years later and Kerrigan would get his first ever Cork senior start in the 2008 Munster decider. Killarney was the venue and the Nemo Rangers forward contributed a point when introduced as a substitute.
It proved another fiery encounter as Cork’s Nick Murphy and Kerry duo Dara and Marc Ó Sé were all sent to the line. Cork rallied during the second half and ran out deserving 1-16 to 1-11 winners thanks, in part, to a Michael Cussen goal.
Alas, for all the excitement around Cork’s unexpected provincial success, Kerry rebounded by knocking the Rebels out of the All-Ireland at the penultimate stage before losing 1-15 to 0-14 to Tyrone in the All-Ireland final.
“I made my debut in the 2008 Munster final so that one will always be special to me,” Kerrigan said.
“I hadn’t featured at all in the league that year and only came in after the league had finished. That’s because Nemo Rangers had gotten to the All-Ireland club final that year as well.
“It was in my head about possibly going away around that time. I was half thinking of going off to America with a bunch of friends. I remember talking to Peadar Healy about it coming up to the Munster championship but he told me to hold on.
“In the end, I decided to hang on and came on as a substitute in that year’s final. 2008 was a real learning curve. The boys had been beaten by Kerry in the previous year’s All-Ireland final. We were well down at half-time and then Nick Murphy got sent off early in the second half.
"It was class though because it set me up for the next 12 or 13 years and gave me the appetite to make my mark at senior.
“So, 2008 was a big one for me, personally, as it was the only game in which I beat Kerry in a final. Any of the other times would have been at the semi-finals stage. It was a dream come true for me to come off the bench, get a score and help us come back to such a massive win.”
Let’s hope the current Cork GAA senior football panel gets to create similar Munster championship memories to Paul Kerrigan’s over the coming weeks.