Cork manager John Meyler says preparations are complete for tomorrow’s Munster SHC clash with Clare — so what are his Saturday evening plans?
Off to Tralee to watch Kerry play Offaly? Or down to Wexford Park for the home side’s crucial clash with Kilkenny?
“I have my own focus for Sunday,” says Meyler.
“If I were to head down to Tralee to watch Kerry play Offaly or to Wexford Park you’d have fellas saying to you, ‘shouldn’t you be at home getting ready for your own game, what are you doing here?’.
“At that stage, it’s all done. There’s not a whole lot more you can do.
“There might be times when going to another game might be a good diversion, you could just watch it and enjoy it. But you could also get involved in it while you’re watching it; the other side is a game like that could drain some of your energy, particularly if you get caught up in it.”
He was on the road last weekend, heading to the Gaelic Grounds to see tomorrow’s opponents.
Limerick won well but Meyler saw enough to concern him in the opening stages.
“Last Sunday in the first 10 minutes Clare had three-goal opportunities. You could say they didn’t take them — or the Limerick defence was very good in stopping those chances — but if they’d taken those then that game could have been very different.
“Clare were well in the game early on. With the likes of Aron Shanagher, John Conlon, Podge Collins, Shane O’Donnell, Peter Duggan, they could have done that damage early on and changed how the game went. How it could have turned out eventually I don’t know, but there were stretches early on when Clare were very impressive, and Limerick needed to defend well against six very good forwards.
That’s a theme of Meyler’s: just how well the players know each other, particularly with the way the season is now organised.
“If you’re in Division 1A, which we are, then you’re playing five other top teams, and there’s usually a good few of the Munster teams in there.
“So you’re playing each other in that competition, and you’ve played the Munster teams in the Munster League before that.
“Then there could be an NHL semi-final or quarter-final, depending on the structure, and playing them in the Munster championship round-robin.
“On top of all that, then, you might make a Munster final and play them again, there’s the All-Ireland series after that...
“We’ve played Limerick three or four times this season, so you’re going to get to know teams a lot better and a lot faster than would have been the case years ago, particularly when it was knockout. If you go back to that time, you mightn’t even see a team for three or four years if they were in a different league section or if you missed them in the championship draw. Now everyone knows each other, and everyone is doing more study.”
Because of that the day of an unheralded, unknown youngster catching opponents unawares is gone. Whoever the senior debutant is, he’s been tagged long before his first start.
“The element of surprise is gone because these intercounty players have all been to third level, more or less, and before that they’ve all played Harty Cup against each other.
“They all know each other. Take Niall O’Leary, who’s come through for us this year. He’s already played in two Fitzgibbon Cups, so he knows all the players in the Munster championship from UL, Limerick IT or Mary I. That’s not even counting on them playing at U21 against each other. As a result, every player is known, and every player knows every other player. That familiarity is constant.”
Cork come into tomorrow’s game on the back of a good win last weekend over Waterford. Meyler says his side still have plenty to work on, however.
“We just had knocks and bruises from the Waterford game, Colm Spillane is back running, but apart from that we should have a full bill of health.
“The objective in all these games is to win and get your two points for a win. The second thing is to play well and cut out your mistakes.
“We had a few mistakes against Waterford last week, we conceded 2-17 but we’ve been scoring well and also had 12 wides. We saw what we need to focus on — we scored 2-30 so we must be doing something right, but we conceded 2-17 so that is something we need to work on to improve.
“There’s only one objective — if you win, you’re in the top three in Munster. That’s the same for the other three counties playing as well: win and get to the top three. That’s our focus and objective. There’s nothing else we can do — we can’t look at permutations and hope some other result goes our way. We have to do it for ourselves.”
And Clare will provide serious opposition, given they can still get out of Munster as well.
“They haven’t become a bad team overnight. Form sometimes goes — look at our match against Tipperary, people were asking ‘what happened there?’ “Yet with five, 10 minutes to go we were four down and might have had a free to make it three points. Then it’d be a case of ‘ye played well’.
And change a manager’s fortunes. Meyler points out that for the men in the bainisteoir bibs, everything is reverse-engineered from the end result.
“Ultimately people feel that if only one county wins the All-Ireland, then the other counties, the other managers, have failed because only one manager is viewed as successful. There’s more analysis, more scrutiny now, so the manager is going to be scrutinised — as is the team. But the only law in sport is if you win you were right, if you lose you were wrong.”