If firmly held convictions were reshaped into cement blocks, Ronan McCarthy could build a tidy labourer’s cottage with them. Truculent? Not so much. Cranky? Has his moments. But when the Cork manager says he “tries to put a bit of thought into answering questions”, the available evidence supports the claim.
Spare the yerras.
Asked what constitutes a ‘proper performance’ and whether one on Saturday in the Munster final against favourites Kerry might restore some trust with the general Cork supporter, Ronan McCarthy lets the diplomacy pitch sail by.
“I’ve no interest in that. I’ve no interest in (the attendance), or the crowd. My interest is in the genuine Cork supporters, of which there are many, who drive long distances from west Cork, who put kids into cars, bring the family wherever, and they support the Cork footballers irrespective of whether the team is going well or going badly.
“They’re the people I am interested in and the others… I have no interest in.”
Even the multitudes burned again last year in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, squirming as Kerry put 3-18 on their hosts?
“When things are not going well, that’s when the team needs support. That’s when you back the team, make sure you are there to support them. I made the point previously that these players are doing everything they can to be successful and to drive the Cork football project forward. When a team is at a low point, that’s when you support them.
“They are the people I am interested in, to put in a performance for them on Saturday. We were away in the likes of Down last year, other away games too, and those people are dotted around the stand. You can see them. They are the people I am interested in.”
The employment of recent challenge game victories to build a legitimate case for a first provincial success since 2012 is a frail metric to be relying on even if the 11/2 odds on a home win Saturday appear over-generous. Asked what a win would do for that ‘Cork football project’, McCarthy counters quickly again.
The manager would be quick to take a hose to them. “I don’t say things for the sake of it. Go back 18 months, and I spoke about not wanting extreme highs and lows (for Cork football). On Saturday, if we win the game, it’ll be nice and steady after it. We will manage the expectation that goes with that, but no one will be getting carried away. This has to stay on an even keel. We have forwards up front who will do plenty of damage, but they must have the ball to do that. People say ‘play on the front foot’, but you must have the ball to do that.”
In at least two interviews since the June 1 pummelling of Limerick, McCarthy has declined to throw last year’s 3-18 to 2-4 wipeout up for a forensic post mortem. His reasoning is that everything and everyone has moved on. “I know what I have to do now,” he said in the bowels of the stadium last June. Has he managed that?
“I think a lot of people overestimate the impact of managers and switches and changes. They can have an influence, but in a game where you are being dominated — it’s a bit like asking Billy Lee what could he have done for Limerick in the semi-final in Páirc Uí Rinn? You can’t get your hands on the ball, so it is very hard to manipulate things with switches.”
McCarthy stood stoic on the sideline last year. There’s many managers across many grades have stood on the same shaky ground as plans, best laid, disintegrate. Not too many in front of 30-odd thousand people though.
“The other dilemma (we had last year against Kerry) is what to do when you are a lot of points down with 15 minutes to go? Wouldn’t it be a lot worse to accept that, to pile men behind the ball to keep the score down. To me, that’s treachery. You must still try and go after the game, but in doing that you leave yourself more vulnerable at the back. Lots of people have found themselves in that situation, but to me the dishonourable thing would have been to accept 25 minutes out, that this game is done and pile fellas behind the ball to keep the score down. I don’t know who you’re keeping happy there, but certainly not me.”
Worse was that of Cork’s 2-4 total, both goals came in the opening eight minutes.
“The game went away from us very quickly, we were seven down at half time (1-11 to 2-1), and I felt the team were a bit shell-shocked — the way the game had started, to be so much in a game and then to be seven down at half-time. They got the goal shortly after half-time. We didn’t have the know how in the team to hang in there when we were under a bit of pressure. Teams are going to have periods of dominance in which any opposition must minimise the damage. I would say Kerry maximised the damage during the period.”
Examining the Cork selection for Sunday, the predominance of relatively callow talent is obvious — particularly in defence. Walsh, Flahive, O’Donovan, Taylor. And yet their attitude and form has emboldened the manager to the point where he will say he is “absolutely certain” Cork’s quality is a match for anything Kerry can throw at them. There’s a rider: “That’s easy to say. Now we have to go out and show that.
“Not only am I seeing (leaders) starting, but they’re on the bench as well. Stephen Cronin and Tom Clancy from Fermoy, two players who saw no game time against Limerick. They are as professional as you’d get, two outstanding characters, two excellent players. Lads who really understand high level performance and team ethic. A win in a really big match will bring that on further.
“People will look at the supposed gap in logical terms like league divisions. Look at (our) Limerick game. If Cork played them, you’d expect Cork to win seven or eight times out of ten. Is that fair? What we had to be careful of was the underdog putting in the performance that delivers an upset two or three times out of ten. You have to perform at a high level to play championship.”
He has enough on Kerry not to make the trip to Ennis on June 1 last a requirement.
“The hard work and analysis is done in the video room,” McCarthy says. “I would have felt it was a difficult game in Ennis for Kerry. I was a member of that 1997 Cork team beaten up there.”
A longs hot he hasn’t forgotten.