The quiet sound of self-belief

ONE THIRD of Cork’s starting 15 took the bother to present themselves for press questioning on Tuesday, an unseasonally healthy number. All starters too, but it wasn’t so much the utterances as their demeanour that left a lingering sense of what can be achieved at the end of the Championship campaign.

Words didn’t patronise. Instead there was a quiet air of poise and a palpable sense of something you won’t find in the transcriptions afterwards – that this is a team growing together, in their belief and their goals.

Where Billy Morgan once spoke of the scary absence of self belief in the Cork dressing room, now there’s understated self-worth. When one player is queried about leaders in the team, he points to Tyrone. “You wouldn’t pick many leaders out of that team, because they’re all leaders. If you’re looking around the field for leaders, you’re in trouble.”

Daniel Goulding has shouldered more than his share of media duties this season, and there’s no immediate indication why. He’s no Orson Welles. But in a new era of post-strike glasnost in Cork, he’s asked to step up to the podium, and he obliges. Show up, deal with it, move on.

He delivers too. Not with the rat-a-tat machine gun verbosity of some but with little vignettes of assuredness. It takes a small while to discern that state of wellbeing that now appears to exist in Cork football, but, slowly, it emerges. For that, Conor Counihan deserves considerable acclaim but he’s been aided by a generous sprinkling of underage and college achievers. The scary part for other counties? Wait two or three years and find out.

Yes, we’ve been here before, but not with Counihan. And there’s little of the baggage his predecessors had to contend with – political and psychological. Goulding is 23 and uninhibited by green and gold suppression because, to a large extent, he’s never experienced it. He responds to questions in clipped half-sentences, but one immediately stands out.

“It’s time for this team to push on.

“Our main focus at the start of this year was the All-Ireland. We’re after winning Munsters, it’s time to push on. It must be at the back of everyone’s mind that we can win an All-Ireland if we have the right attitude. There’d be something wrong if it wasn’t,” Goulding shrugs.

“We’ve had a lot of near misses and occasions when we didn’t perform. Since the start of the year, there’s an unsaid view that there’s a great bunch of lads here, we had the Under 21s winning the All-Ireland, Cork IT winning the Sigerson, everyone knows that the potential is there.”

But?

“Potential is one thing but there won’t be much point looking forward if we’re beaten on Sunday by Donegal. If anyone starts thinking of a semi-final, that’ll be our downfall and maybe we’ll look back and thank Limerick for teaching us the lesson of never looking ahead.”

Sporadically they come, words that define the Éire Óg attacker and his worth to the Cork footballers. ‘Homebird’, ‘chill out at the club’, ‘working on stuff’. Like that right foot?

“When I was younger there was no such thing as a right foot for me. Up to minor I wouldn’t have done a lot of work on it, but even in my first year at Under 21 you notice that it was becoming a lot easier for defenders to close you down. At this stage, it’s something I do a lot of work on.”

That’s a lot of work. Three hours, maybe more a week, more in the off season. His exocet left peg offers the promise of goals, but he knows he’s still too one-dimensional as long as his right foot is for emergencies.

“Once the Championship was finished two years ago, I got the chance to work on it with the club. It wasn’t that I was getting blocked down more regularly, but you were conscious that it was something to rectify, to work on if you wanted to develop. Even if it was something as small as throwing a corner back once in a game.

“There might be three or four evenings in the week before training where I’d go out for half an hour and work on left and right, frees and play.”

Free-taking? I’ve seen Goulding split the uprights from the sideline in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, but that’s with pigeons for company. He’s nowhere near the chalk-it-down-before-it’s-kicked elite yet but if the rate of progress from 2008 to this season is replicated, it won’t be long.

“You miss one early (a free) and it makes you cross more than anything like upset or downbeat. Croke Park is a beautiful sod for kicking frees, as is Páirc Uí Chaoimh, even if the wind in both stadia can be occasionally awkward. Anyway, this Croke Park thing with Cork is a non-factor. I don’t know anyone in the squad who doesn’t like playing in Croke Park. Some of the younger lads haven’t had the experience yet, but as a group we really enjoy the whole feeling of being involved at Croke Park.”

He’s learning to be patient too, with a little help from his coach.

“Conor’s very good in terms of teaching us the virtue of patience. We know it might be 15 minutes before the full forward line gets a meaningful touch but the important part is to be concentrating and ready when that opportunity does present itself. You can try to make things happen yourself but it’s important too not to disrupt the team’s rhythm by straying too far out of position for example.

“The key difference I’ve found at this level is the intensity and the concentration required. I know it’s a cliché but that doesn’t make it less true. I’ve found you might come off the pitch after a club game and would be physically tired but mentally fine. At inter-county level, one dropped ball can make a huge difference so that total focus means you can be drained mentally afterwards.”

THIS WEEK, he’s taken a step back from his VHI Cúl Camps and his Masters degree in Environmental Engineering. Cooling the jets.

“I had six or seven weeks off at Christmas when I did nothing, and though it’s been pretty non-stop since, Conor is good to give you a break if he thinks you are tired.”

He’s been in phone touch with his compadre and Éire Óg colleague Ciaran Sheehan, who’s in Australia, acclimatising for a stint with AFL outfit Carlton. “He loves it out there,” confirms Goulding, “there’s a lot of hard training, but he’s that kind of a lad anyway, he loves it. He never stops going, he’s always been kicking a ball, or with a hurley in his hand. I’m a bit more of a home bird.

“I’d be serious about my football but not so serious that I’m blinkered about it.

“I actually find that going down to Éire Óg is a big switch off for me. The lads there have a different humour again, and they’re up for the big of craic and it isn’t all about Cork. They’ll probably know I don’t want to talk about it. It’s a different scene. Even going down to a club game, nobody’s too concerned with Cork, because they’ve their own things to worry about.”

Not on Sunday, they won’t.

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