Having made his Cork U21 football debut in his first year out of minor, John O’Rourke is aware that pecking orders must be respected.
Whether it’s explicitly stated or not, seniority counts for a lot and the Carbery Rangers man had to be the water-carrier for more established players before he could himself be considered a marquee name.
Two years later, O’Rourke now has a trio of Munster medals, though All-Ireland glory has eluded him, with today’s final against Galway representing a last chance of national success. But he is happy to carry a greater duty on his shoulders as one of the more experienced squad members.
“Two years ago, I was playing wing-forward alongside Mark Collins and Ciarán Sheehan,” he said.
“I was probably the person who did the hard work and they played the ball, but this year I’m maybe a more central player on the team and I take on more responsibility, whereas before I’d be just giving it to them.
“As you progress, you try to up it and help the younger fellas coming in, which is what happened me when I came in.”
Nine of the starting side today were involved when Cork reached the All-Ireland minor final in 2010. In O’Rourke’s view, that experience means the focus is turned towards the game rather than the occasion.
“The last two weeks of training have been the most enjoyable of the year as everybody is so looking forward to it,” he said.
“Everyone’s buzzing and training is enjoyable, nobody is going to be nervous because they’ve all experienced finals before.
“When you’re an U21 compared to minor you’re a bit more mature. When you’re a minor you’re looking forward to things after the game and you get caught up in the hype a little bit.
“We’re not interested in that stuff anymore. We just want the medal at this stage. It’s the only thing coming into our heads.”
Along with O’Rourke, Damien Cahalane, Tom Clancy, Jamie Wall and Alan Cronin are the other third-year veterans on the Cork team. The maturity is certainly an asset, but that does not mean youth doesn’t have a part to play, either.
“There are five of us who have been starting for the three years,” O’Rourke said.
“It’s a big help, when it comes to a tight game maybe we know how to close it out a bit better, you’re able to take the responsibility.
“At the same time, the last day when the game was there to be won it was Ian Maguire, a 19-year-old, who went up and won the ball and we got it down and got the score. It shows that anybody can raise it on the day.”
It all contributes to a solid team dynamic, though feelings are not always spared.
“The spirit is great, it’s like a club team really,” he said.
“We’re very good off the field, there’s plenty of slagging, even during the day you’d hang out together after college or whatever, when I’d be coming down from college in Limerick I’d travel with a few other fellas.
“There’s a good social aspect to it, there’s always a bit of craic, you wouldn’t want to bring your feelings into the dressing room, any fella is liable to get mocked but it’s all taken well.”
O’Rourke has also had experience of another dressing room this year, having played in the Cork senior team’s opening two games in Division 1 of the Allianz FL, scoring three points on his debut against Dublin in Croke Park.
While not thinking about getting more of a taste of the top level until after today, he acknowledges the lessons learned.
“I thought the training was very good, you get to see how lads on the senior team look after themselves and the effort that they put in, so I tried to bring some of that to the U21 set-up.
“I had done a bit of training with them last year, but it was still probably a surprise to be told that I was starting as I thought I might be a sub.”
Everybody else thought he would be too, as he was named on the bench and was one of four late changes prior to throw-in. Such moves are the norm with Cork, but O’Rourke admits that it did help to keep the pressure off.
“Before the game, nobody was texting me, which was grand as that can get annoying. I think that it was a good idea by the management.”