John Cleary: There's always pressure when Cork face Kerry, you can't be happy with second best

Cork are a remarkable 14/1 to beat their great rivals despite securing home advantage at Páirc Uí Rinn
John Cleary: There's always pressure when Cork face Kerry, you can't be happy with second best

Cork boss John Cleary knows the Rebels will be up against it when hosting Kerry. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

SATURDAY: Munster SFC semi-final Cork v Kerry, Páirc Uí Rinn, 6pm.

CORK teams rarely lack motivation against the old enemy, but if interim manager John Cleary needs any further geeing up of his troops, then slapping the bookies’ odds on the dressing room wall might help.

Of course, it’s perfectly understandable that Kerry are unbackable 1/50 favourites with Cork 14/1 given last year’s trimming and 2022 form, as well.

The money men have set the handicap at 11 points and go as low as 5/2 for Kerry to prosper by 16 points or more, all fuel for Cork to get their dander up.

All the fuss about the venue has been well aired at this juncture and Cleary doesn’t believe Cork have backed themselves into a corner over it.

“There’s no added pressure because we’re playing Kerry, who are favourites to win the All-Ireland,” he said during the week.

“We’ve got to be realistic and do the level best we can. We know we are going in as underdogs which might give us extra motivation, but it’s for others to write us off.

“We think we’ve prepared well. The guys who put on the red jerseys will hopefully go for it and if we’re good enough the result will take care of itself.

“There’s always that bit of pressure when playing Kerry. We want to win the game and you can’t be happy with second best. We also want to try and get a run as far as we can in the championship.”

Cleary has the strange distinction of being unbeaten in his new managerial role, stepping up from coach in the enforced absence of Keith Ricken, after guiding Cork to vital wins over Down and Offaly to preserve their Division 2 status.

“That was important from a psychological point of view, having to play Kerry knowing we’d be in the Tailteann Cup if we lost.

“For a county like Cork, it would have been demoralising in one respect and you wouldn’t want that, so everyone was delighted to get over the line, just about, in the last two games.

Whatever happens now we’ll have another shot at the Sam Maguire Cup and that’s what a county like Cork needs. We didn’t want to be going down playing Tailteann Cup if at all possible.” 

Cleary admitted it was a very difficult start to the season given all the upheaval and the SOS calls to the raw recruits.

“For a lot of the younger fellows the confidence was going with all the defeats, but they’re now coming into the championship with two wins.

LEARNING CURVE

“It was needs-must starting out in the McGrath Cup and the early rounds of the league because we had so many injuries and were also missing the Barrs lads.

“It meant guys had to be turfed in and maybe they weren’t ready for it. We brought them into the panel so that they might learn the ropes and get an odd cameo role, but it ended up them being thrown in at the deep end.

“They suffered at the beginning, but they’ve definitely improved and started to pick up confidence.

“It will definitely strengthen the panel going forward because they’re in a better place now.”

Well-documented injuries in a long list hampered Cork, but there are green shoots emerging though it will take time for them to show fully.

“We’re very much guided by the medical people because the lads want to play, especially in the big games.

“We’ve got to look at the bigger picture, too, a week or two more could mean having players for the rest of the season whereas they might break down if rushed back.”

Venue clarity has helped as Cleary outlined. 

We got a bit of a surprise when it was taken away from Páirc Uí Rinn. It helped that we had precedence and others stood their ground, so we issued our statement and moved on.

“It was parked then because we had enough problems trying to get everyone back fit and get our preparation right.”

Cleary is more comfortable coaching than managing but answered another SOS call to take over Ricken’s slot.

“The lads wanted to put my name forward as the face of the group. It was a matter of stepping up to the plate.”

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