Stephen McDonnell can thank his Cork team-mate Jamie Coughlan for the No 3 jersey.
McDonnell made his name in the open prairies of midfield with Glen Rovers, but when Coughlan troubled the Glen in a club game McDonnell’s pace suggested he’d be the man to shut down the Newtown player and he was sent back to the last line of defence.
Now McDonnell is Cork’s established full-back. Part of the new buzz about the Rebel hurlers.
“The general public are talking more positively about Cork hurling now,” he says. “Before, when you mentioned Cork hurling you’d hear a sigh or ‘if’ or ‘but’. Now they’re looking forward. There aren’t as many ifs and buts nowadays.”
McDonnell runs the rule over the games that have eradicated the ifs and buts.
Feb 25: Cork 3-17, Waterford 0-18: “I’d been with CIT, as had a few lads, so it was the first game we really had together, and we didn’t know how we’d go as a unit. With Jimmy coming back as well, there was a bit of pressure. Once the ball was thrown in, though, it was just another game. You couldn’t help but notice that Waterford had late changes, but we went out to play our game. You know you’re up against it no matter who you’re playing, but it went well apart from the fact that I broke my toe.”
March 11, Cork 2-18, Dublin 2-17: “That was a big game. We were poor that day all over the field, but we got the win. We weren’t happy with the performance but we took that lesson with us — that we could manage a win even if we didn’t dominate a game from start to finish.
“It’s good to win a game in Croke Park but I think that the issue of playing there can be a bit in your head, too. Before the game you’d put yourself under more pressure, or you’d think things could happen differently. But it’s just another pitch once you get into it.”
March 18, Cork 2-13, Galway 2-17: “‘Brick’ Walsh stood on my toe in the Waterford game and it was sore, but I didn’t realise it was broken until afterwards — I thought it was my hamstring I’d hurt.
“It was my small toe, so they weren’t going to put it in plaster or anything. I was able to play away. For the Galway game though I had to let it recover. I asked the management would I come down and do the hurleys or whatever, but they said to stay at home and relax for the weekend — they’re very accommodating like that. They only want what’s best for us and to get right for the next day.”
March 25: Cork 1-17, Kilkenny 1-15: “They’re the best team in Ireland, so you can’t help but think differently about that game, though I just tried to approach it like any other league game and be ready for it. What was good about that was winning a tough, tight game at home. It’s important to have the supporters with you — you don’t want people to be thinking negatively, because that can feed into the team’s attitude. So winning that one was a good one for the supporters: it gives them reason to follow the team.”
April 1: Cork 1-23, Tipperary 1-23: “You’d notice the space in the game that people were talking about afterwards, saying it wasn’t as tight as a championship game or whatever. But that’s a big part of how Tipperary play — they like to create space, to hit each other out the field with short passes and punish you from out the field. Drawing the game, getting to the league semi-final... I wouldn’t say it was a sense of ‘mission accomplished’, the mission is to do as well as we can in the championship. But it was a boost to get to the knockout stages.”
April 22: semi-final: Cork 1-25, Tipperary 2-15: “I know people would be thinking, ‘Tipp will be holding back for the championship’, or that we were, but you can’t go out with that attitude. You have to focus on your own job. Going to Thurles, to play Tipp was a good test. Conor Lehane and Darren Sweetnam came on late and did very well — all the forwards played well, and it’s noticeable that they’re all working very hard. Padraic Maher came out with the ball at one stage for Tipp in that game and four or five of them came after him and bottled him up. It’s nearly more encouraging for me to see the forwards get in a hook or a block than to see them score. I was disappointed when they got goals but I looked up at the clock and you could see there was time left — we went down the field and got a point or two both times, so that’s in our heads now, if we concede a goal to stick at it.”
May 6: Cork v Kilkenny: “You’d hear some people say Tipperary would prefer not to play Kilkenny this early in the year, but you can’t beat these games — the best team in Ireland, a big crowd, a cup at stake. We’re looking forward to it.”
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