Graham Canty calls it a day over a pot of tea in a quiet hostelry in Cork city. No great hysteria. No blaze of score-settling: the last Cork man to lift Sam Maguire was calm and measured. In character.
“People might think I’ve been unlucky with injuries, but I played 14 years intercounty, and enjoyed every second of it — big league games and small, championship games, training. I enjoyed it all and I never took it for granted.
“You have to be aware that you’re never far away from it all being gone — not just through injury, but work circumstances may change, family life, you could lose form. Luckily for me those all aligned and I was able to play for Cork.”
The All-Ireland win in 2010 stands out, but there were other highlights. When Cork beat Meath in the All-Ireland semi-final in 2007 he met people who’d travelled up from Bantry, and he still recalls their enjoyment.
“People who’d be at every game, it was great to see how delighted they were heading back home down the road, the kick they got out of it.”
The 2009 championship win over Tyrone was another high point: “We played good football on the day, that was a good day – because Tyrone were a good outfit.”
He spent 14 years jousting with Kerry, but the Bantry man doesn’t see the Kingdom as an intrinsic problem in the Cork psyche. “You’re talking about pitting yourself against one of the best teams in football, year in, year out. Kerry have been at that level while I’ve been there, and you’d want to put yourself up against the best.”
It’s not a rivalry that looms too large for Cork, then — that Cork teams get hung up on beating Kerry? “No, because the way the championship is gone you’ve got a provincial series and then an All-Ireland series. To win the former you know you’re probably going to have to get over Kerry at some stage. And it’s in your blood. Growing up it was Cork and Kerry every year, usually in the Munster final. It’s part of you.”
Canty is strong in his defence of Conor Counihan, who departed after Cork lost to Dublin in this year’s All-Ireland quarter-final.
“I worked with him longer than any other manager, and as one of the senior players in his time I probably ended up speaking with him more than some other players.
“Was the criticism unfair? I think so. Conor doesn’t have to justify himself to anyone, nor should he. Look at the national titles to our name — we wouldn’t have them only for his management. National titles aren’t easy to win. If people can’t see that achievement, then that’s too bad. For them.”
He sketches out the challenge of elite Gaelic football: “It’s very hard to pick up on the movement, on the tactics, unless you’re at a game. And sometimes, depending on where you are in the stadium, never mind on the pitch, you may not get a good sense of that either. Tactics are a huge part of the game. Strength and conditioning is a huge part of the game too, and you must reach a minimum standard there to compete. On top of that, then, you have to be able to play ball. Those are the three elements. If you haven’t one of those, you’re under pressure.”
He told new Cork boss Brian Cuthbert of his decision last week but he hasn’t really considered management himself for the future.
He’s keen to acknowledge the support he received. From his family, from his club. From management, club mates, selectors, medical teams. Everyone.
As the conversation winds down, a question about 2010: what did he say to the team before the All-Ireland final?
“It wouldn’t have been planned out or anything. The best thing you can do in that situation is to get yourself right and make sure you can do your own job first and foremost. As a captain you try to lead by example. The rest looks after itself.”
He led by example. The rest looked after itself.
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