‘Cork may need a Hail Mary day’

DIARMUID O’FLYNN (DO’F): Michael, why is that so many former players stay involved in Kilkenny?

MICHAEL WALSH (MW): Hurling is a real way of life in Kilkenny; in Cork there’s hurling, football, soccer, rugby – you name it, there’s everything. There’s some of that in Kilkenny as well but hurling is a religion. In Nowlan Park last night there was at least 3,000 people for the training session, and they were doing nothing only tapping the ball over and back across the field. And they come from every corner of the county. This team has really pulled people together in the county – people down from Kilmacow, up from Johnstown and Galmoy. It’s ridiculous – all age groups, male and female. If they win on Sunday it will be bedlam for the final. The difference between Cork and Kilkenny is that Kilkenny is purely and simply a hurling county.

DO’F: You’re totally immersed in it?

MW: Absolutely, I don’t know what I’d do without it. You’re always saying, ‘I’ll give it up, I’ll do this, I’ll do that’, but you’re always drawn back into it. I’m involved with the Kilkenny U21s (manager) and this year, unfortunately, we got beaten early, but the last two years we got to the final and it was just non-stop from beginning to end. Three nights a week with the county, plus you’d give some time to your own club (Dicksboro) as well.

DO’F: You’re not like that Brian?

BRIAN CORCORAN (BC): No. Everyone is different; when I was involved I was totally immersed in it, 100%, but after I retired the first time (2001), I was out for three years and didn’t touch a hurley for those three years, and didn’t miss it. The decision to go back wasn’t because I missed it either, it was because I got the opportunity, decided to go for it. The second time I retired (October ‘06), I can honestly say I didn’t miss it, which a lot of people find hard to believe.

You go through different phases of your life, and my kids are young, involved in other things. For a lot of years I was the number one priority in our house, I was doing what I wanted to do and everyone else had to play second fiddle. Now it’s my turn in the background, the roles have turned. I’m not saying I’ll never again get involved, but it’s not a priority at the moment. The girls are nine and seven and into music, dance, gymnastics – I’m now the taxi-driver. The boy will be five this month.

MW: I have two, a girl and a boy, 22 and 18, and they’re both totally into the hurling. Ollie is on the Kilkenny minor team this year but he’s into it anyway, and that’s his own choice. Diane is into dancing also, big-time, Irish dancing, goes off to different places – she’s actually going to Germany on Friday but will be back on Sunday in time for the match. But it’s when Brian’s young fella gets a bit older that he’ll find himself back involved in hurling again, with the underage; that’s what happens, that’s when the bug will bite again – it draws you back into it.

DO’F: Brian, you’ve gone back heavy into martial arts?

BC: I wouldn’t say heavy, it’s just a way of keeping fit and I was always interested in it anyway.

DO’F: Was that a help to you in your playing days, flexibility-wise?

BC: It was. I only did it in my teens for extra fitness and flexibility, and I’d say it really stood to me – I’m probably one of the few guys who went through his whole career without ever getting a muscle injury, no pulled hamstring or groin strain or anything like that. I had four years of it in my teens, and about three-quarters of every class was devoted to stretching.

DES BARRY (DB): Did you ever play anything else Michael?

MW: Yes, soccer – I played junior for the Republic of Ireland, and I had the opportunity to go to St. Pat’s and Waterford at different times, back in the 80’s. The Pat’s one came very close, I actually went up there, but we were going well locally and it was put off ‘til the summer; by then I was on the Kilkenny U21 team at the time. The following year the Waterford thing came up but I didn’t take that up either. Kilkenny City won promotion to the League of Ireland and I played one season in that – sweeper or midfield, switched between the two.

DO’F: Did you get as much of a kick out of that?

MW: Well I love all sports, probably too much, follow them all, and I did love soccer, but not enough to give up hurling.

DO’F: Was it always going to be goalkeeping, in hurling?

MW: Yeah, it was. I actually played outfield a few times for Kilkenny, in the forwards, an Oireachtas match in Callan in 1984, Centenary year, and I played a few times outfield in the league afterwards, was on the panel for the championship, but I never had much of a grá for playing outfield, I just preferred the goals, and I know that might seem like a bit of madness.

DB: Did you ever play soccer or rugby, Brian?

BC: I never played rugby, but played a bit of soccer alright. The bottom line was that the hurling field was across the road from my house, that was that.

DO’F: How big was the football, did it compete with the hurling (Brian was an inter-county dual star)?

BC: Ah no comparison – I came from a hurling parish, we were senior in hurling, junior in football. We won a couple of championships in the football, but any time we did it was only after we’d been beaten early in the hurling. The hurling team was practically the football team, same positions as well. To be honest, any good hurler would make a decent footballer.

DB: You’re very good at golf too?

BC: Yeah, I’ve always loved golf, but don’t get much of a chance to play it now anymore. Off four, but I’ve played only about three games in the last three months.

MW: Same as that – I’m off six, but don’t get the chance anymore either.

DO’F: What’s your impression of Kilkenny, Brian?

BC: I’ve always had massive respect for Kilkenny; all down through the years, when you came up against Kilkenny, you knew you were coming up against something different, and you can see that in the current team also. Even as a defender you’d find yourself being hooked and blocked against Kilkenny, where you wouldn’t against other teams.

They had the workrate, but they also had the skills to be able to do it, and they always brought the intensity – even at minor level, back in ‘88 and ‘90, they were like that. Cork is a big county, big population, but there’s a big split there in the sports, whereas in Kilkenny the focus is almost totally on hurling.

I lost a colleges’ final against St. Kieran’s in ‘88, lost a minor final the same year, lost again in 1990 after a replay, so my underage career saw a lot of losses against Kilkenny.

They would have been seen as the ultimate challenge. In senior afterwards I played four senior finals against them, won two and lost two. Huge respect for Kilkenny, for the quality of the players they have. To be honest, I think they’re getting a lot of very unfair criticism, about fellas going over the edge – I don’t agree with any of that.

They play on the edge, which is where every team should be, but you can’t deny the quality in that team, you can’t deny the achievements, the standards they’ve brought to the game – they have set the bar now, it’s up to others to meet it. Another thing about the current team – their hunger. In the finals of ‘07 and ‘08, Limerick and Waterford were the teams who hadn’t won a title for decades, Kilkenny were the defending champions, yet it was Kilkenny who showed the far greater hunger – it looked like they were the team that hadn’t won an All-Ireland for decades. They have an almost insatiable appetite for success.

DO’F: Your impression of 1992 – you were only 19, but were you nervous, or fearless?

BC: I was fully aware of what we were facing – it was probably one of the few times when Cork were favourites against Kilkenny, always dangerous! I remember the game very well; obviously a very different Kilkenny team to the current side, and a very different Cork side, but they were still two great teams.

MW: They were – do you remember losing your hurley into the Hogan Stand?

BC: I do. First half, wet day, but that was probably a reflection of my inexperience, my naivety, and Ger Cunningham reminds me of it to this day. He told me before the match – it’s going to be wet, change the grip on your hurley. I didn’t – I’d been playing with it all year, felt it was grand. It was dry at the start of the match, I used to come out to take the long-range frees, and the first 65, I scored it. Then the rain came, heavy rain, and the second 65 – when I hit it, the hurley actually twisted in my hands, ball up in the air.

MW: The rain really belted down, unbelievable – I had a towel in the goals trying to keep the hurley dry, but it hardly made a difference. If you were nervous though that day, you certainly didn’t show it – you had some game. Eamonn Morrissey had been a massive player for us all year, big and strong, as fine a player as you’d ever see – in the Leinster final that year he scored six or seven points from play against Wexford, a class forward, but you handled him well.

DJ was another class player up front, but that was such a dangerous forward line. You had John Power in the middle, a great man to break up the play, and he’d get his scores as well, Liam MacCarthy a totally underrated player, Liam Fennelly still as dangerous as ever. But Eamonn Morrissey was having some year until that final – did you come across from the other corner to mark him? I remember you were wearing number two.

BC: I wore two all year, but I played in the left corner against Tipp as well, on Pat Fox, and they left me there after that. I meet him here occasionally (Brian now works in Cashel, where Pat has a pub). Funny actually; my first game back after my retirement we came up here to Cashel to play the local club, and I thought I’d be the old man taking the field – the full-back I was marking was definitely in his 40s, and up at the other end was Pat Fox, still playing away in the corner. I didn’t feel so bad after that.

DO’F: We’d better go to this Sunday – have Cork any chance?

MW: Every team has a chance, and we all saw what happened to Tyrone and Kerry last weekend. But the reality is that Kilkenny are hot favourites, everyone expects them to win, and there’s no getting away from that. After Cork beat Tipperary, everyone in Cork was on a high, but they haven’t come anywhere near that standard again this year; to have a chance against Kilkenny they have to play like that again, maybe even better. But I believe Kilkenny will win. I know there’s a history of upsets, but the Cork forward line is going to have to step up big-time. From one to nine they’re as good as anyone, but from there forward, they’re not as strong.

BC: I’d never write off Cork, they’re the one team that always believes they can beat Kilkenny – whether that’s fuelled by their imagination or not, I don’t know. To me, it will come down to goals, always does against Kilkenny – any time we beat them, we held them goal-less, any time they goaled, they won. The Cork defence won those games for Cork. It’s very hard to see this Cork defence holding this Kilkenny forward line though.

MW: Look at their championship scoring average, over 20 points per game, and a lot of goals. I don’t think Cork are going to play any differently to how Cork always play, I don’t think this management thinks like that, so we can expect a conventional game, 15 against 15.

DO’F: Can Cork win?

BC: They can, but they may need a Hail Mary day. No goals conceded, score a few themselves – one of those special days, like they had against Tipperary. They’re definitely capable of a display, as they showed in that match. I’m not saying Cork weren’t up for it against Waterford but they were hugely up for it against Tipperary, and will be hugely up for it again for this one.

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