Cool hand Counihan’s sole focus is Killarney

FUN times with Conor Counihan.

In his fourth year of it, he’s a dab hand at facing the media in the Rochestown Park Hotel. A joke cracked was always his way of diffusing a strong line of questioning.

Now it is what it is – a joke. And there are plenty of them. On thesubject of whether he has to do much video analysis on Kerry given the neighbours’ familiarity, he quips: “No, no, no, I see those fellas in my sleep!”

Ask whether he liked playing in Fitzgerald Stadium as a player and the once teak-tough centre-back smiles: “I did, I did, I did because Killarney would probably be a bit tighter than Páirc Uí Chaoimh.”

Speaking of his playing days, does his experience of putting back-to-back All-Irelands together provide anyassistance to his current role?

“I don’t think so. I’m not being smart about it but I wouldn’tremember too much about it. I shouldn’t be saying that!”

And what about those 16 yearswithout a championship win against the home team in Killarney. Stirs the blood, no? “I suppose it’s helpful, alright,” he responds with a typical deadpan delivery before offering a glint in the eye.

Counihan would have always given the perception he’s at ease. Who will forget his classic TV conversation with Colm O’Rourke and Joe Brollyimmediately after their 2008 Munster final win over Kerry.

Down 1-8 to 0-3 at the break, the Sunday Game Live panellists laid into Cork but faced with a victorious Counihan they were contrite men. “If it was performance-related ye’d be gone long ago,” chuckled the Aghada man.

But there’s something more serene about the man. He’s not as much on the back foot, no longer trying as hard to sell us the idea that all is well in his quarter.

Undoubtedly, last September has helped. Ditto the fact he’s carrying few if any injuries into Sunday’s game. Having won the last three nationaltitles on offer, there’s a sense ofaccomplishment in the Cork camp.

There is unfinished business, sure. But before Kerry in Croke Park, there is Kerry in Killarney. Hunger, even though he voices uncertainty about it, shouldn’t be a problem.

“I should think last year when we were trying to win an All-Ireland it was a serious disadvantage not having won one.

“Having won one now, you’re saying, ‘Jesus, it was an easier place to be last year’ in the sense you were dealing with fellas who didn’t have an All-Ireland medal or this or that.

“Now you’re saying to yourself ‘Are they really hungry enough for it again?’ Whereas last year I’d never have any doubt about that.

“Now, maybe I’ve no reason to doubt either but you have to ask the question.”

But surely there are advantages to being the kingpins? Counihan just about agrees but insists their task isn’t made any easier because of it.

“You do get a certain degree ofconfidence from it but you’re nosurprise package, people have you well plotted in terms of your tactics and your strategies and they know theplayers better so there are pluses and minuses on it.”

The crown weighs heavy but there’s a time to forget about it too, says Counihan.

“Pressure is what you take on yourself if you want to,” he says. “From my point of view, I suppose it’s a cliché but it’s one game at a time.

“Favouritism doesn’t win you matches. When the ball is thrown-in, it’s nil-all, scoreless, 15 against 15. If you think you have some advantage that could be to your detriment.”

Counihan disagrees it’s the most confident Cork have gone into a championship game against Kerryunder his management. Cork andKerry games are decided on the day, he maintains. Although he acknowledges that yawning gap to their last Munster SFC triumph under Purple Mountain is a motivating tool.

“Look, it’s a statistic you wouldn’t mind seeing turned over. The reality is over the last number of years, despite the fact Cork haven’t won there in 16 years, it’s been extremely tight there on a number of occasions.

“Cork people would considerthemselves quite unlucky on manyoccasions not to have come out on the right side of it.”

Given the high tensions of recent games between the teams, Counihan will also be preaching the virtues of keeping cool to his players.

“I’ll always be a strong advocate of discipline, whatever the situation is. We don’t ever want to see peoplegetting unnecessary yellow or red cards for that matter so we’d always be a strong advocate of that.

“There is intense rivalry there and that but I’d be clearly saying to our fellas to put that aside and focus on the game and the performance and try and do the job.”

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