I NEVER knew I had so many friends in Cork and Limerick!
All the phone calls and text messages and emails all week, but they were just looking for tickets for the final All-Ireland hurling final.
Now, I am neither a Limerick man nor a Cork man, and cannot help, but people will try anything to get their hands on that golden ticket, especially this year, with the attendance limited to half the stadium because of Covid-19 restrictions. But I can only imagine what it’s like living in either of those counties, where the struggle for tickets is savage.
This is where Kieran Kingston and his management team will have the hardest time — it will be the same for John Kiely in Limerick — and not alone with the pressure of the game, but the added pressure from people trying to get at their players with the sole purpose of getting a ticket.
They have to keep the players — more so in Cork — away from the public. Limerick have more experience of handling this in the recent past. They also have experience of handling the whole occasion, including the lead-up.
So the pressure is more on Kieran Kingston in getting his players focused on the job at hand. All the sideshows have to be put out of their minds.
The media attention will be enormous — every comment made will have to be careful — not giving the opposition any advantage by being clever with any remarks.
All mentors have to be fully tuned in to their players at all times, to ensure they react well to the occasion and have them prepared, mentally and physically.
They are going to be ready physically, though sometimes players can have phantom injuries, or ‘All Ireland niggles’ as I always call them. Such injuries are in the mind, but that is the worst place to have them.
This is where good management comes in, and not just from the manager, but all mentors have to be fully alert to this and help the players in every way they can, especially players in their first All-Ireland, and most of this Cork team are in that category. Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan are the only two players that have played in an All-Ireland final and their experience is crucial to this group.
I remember my father talking to us years ago about the great Limerick team of the 1930s.
He also told us about the great Cork team of the 1940s and all the outstanding battles he had seen between these two in the Munster championship, but, of course, that was all about two men: Mick Mackey, of Limerick, who was finishing up when the great Christy Ring, of Cork, was just getting started.
Of course, Limerick people always believed Mackey was the greatest, but Cork people would agree until Christy Ring came along. Even to this day, Ring is still remembered as the greatest hurler ever.
I can remember some exciting Cork-Limerick encounters in the championship and none better than three years ago, in the All-Ireland semi-final, when Cork were in a winning position, six points up and as many minutes left, but Limerick came back to level the game and win in extra time, and continued on to win the All-Ireland.
Limerick have been the dominant team in the country since then. Cork have struggled in the meantime, but at last find themselves back in an All-Ireland final, and relishing the challenge ahead.
The excitement in both counties will be huge, especially in Cork, not having been in the final since 2013, a game they were favourites to win against another Munster team, Clare.
But they didn’t, not even after a replay. Now they are up against their near neighbours, Limerick, in another Munster All-Ireland final.
I’d say there must be very nervous people on the borders of both counties, but I’m sure the craic is mighty, and that is the way it should be.
It has to be enjoyed, and the build-up is a big part of that for supporters. The enjoyment of the occasion is for them, the hard work for the players, and a match to be played.
It is great for any county to be in an All-Ireland final.
It lifts the whole atmosphere, people grow in stature, and have a spring in their step, and pride in their county. Overall, it is a feel-good factor for these couple of weeks, and with expectation high, this all adds to the pressure of the occasion, especially on management and players, but what county wouldn’t relish being in that position?
I’m sure the phone calls will keep coming right up to the last minute.
Isn’t that what everyone does to get to Croke Park for the big day? And that is part and parcel of this great occasion.
More about the game later on.