Don Davis: ‘If I was Kerry, I would be a lot more concerned’

July 23, 1995. Take That’s ‘Never Forget’ tops the Irish charts. John Daly is adding a second Major with an Open win in St Andrews and Cork are making Killarney their home away from home for a second time in three years.

Don Davis: ‘If I was Kerry, I would be a lot more concerned’

Éamonn Breen’s second-minute goal wasn’t the most auspicious of starts for the visitors but the identity of Cork’s opening scorer reassured Ciarán O’Sullivan.

He says: “My daughter showed me (footage on YouTube of the game) on the phone the other day and we were down a goal after how many minutes? (Niall) Cahalane got our first score if I’m not mistaken. There are things like that.”

Then there were other positive portents like Don Davis’ three points.

“The biggest shock is that Don actually scored,” laughs O’Sullivan. “I’m constantly saying that Don never scored and of course he had to get three points in ’95. Don was a workhorse. All jokes aside, he would carry ball all day and he would admit himself he wasn’t the biggest scoring man out there.”

O’Sullivan himself posted two points from wing-back on a day when, similar to the semi-final the year before, Cork timed their run perfectly. Colin Corkery was asking supporters hunched on the sideline to move back so he could take a free.

“He had to move the crowd at one stage to kick one over,” recalls Davis. “They were the good old days, pre-health and safety regulations in stadiums. My memory is we had no fear. The score was nip and tuck and we just got over the line at the end of the day.”

That Gary Barlow and co’s song dominated the airwaves at the time is appropriate considering Cork have never been allowed to forget that day, the last time they came away from Fitzgerald Stadium with a SFC win over Kerry.

Davis argues Cork’s thus far 22-year wait for a win there has been “exaggerated to a certain extent in the media” because of the home and away element of the counties’ arrangements. All the same, they have travelled there on 11 occasions since without success.

However, five of those clashes have ended in draws, the latest two years ago when O’Sullivan and Davis were selectors to Brian Cuthbert when it might have appeared Cork, as surprisingly impressive as they were, couldn’t catch a break.

Ciarán O’Sullivan in his heyday with Cork. He feels Cork’s 22-year wait for a win in Killarney has been exaggerated by the media.
Ciarán O’Sullivan in his heyday with Cork. He feels Cork’s 22-year wait for a win in Killarney has been exaggerated by the media.

“Sometimes you can fly under the radar,” recounts Davis of the first 2015 game.

“Preparation was excellent, Brian Cuthbert got everything right from all that I could see and, look, let’s call a spade a spade, a couple of controversial decisions went against us. I’m not too sure if Fionn Fitzgerald was going for a point with that kick either.”

O’Sullivan isn’t as keen to dwell on Pádraig Hughes’ penalty call against Mark Collins on James O’Donoghue. “There are a lot of arguments about the penalty but I don’t even count that. Honestly, we should have won that game regardless. We had the chances.

"So we can complain about the penalty that was given that shouldn’t have been given or the free that was or wasn’t given but we should have won the game, we didn’t do it and it’s very hard when you give Kerry a second chance. We were just a small bit behind them on the second day and we have to take that on the chin.

“We were going in with no hope whatsoever. Among ourselves, we knew the work had been done but at the same time we were given no hope — and rightly so to a degree because Kerry were flying and if you were to go on form they were the team that should have won the first day.”

On paper, Killarney reads as being an unhappy hunting ground for Cork when in fact it more often than not inspires them. In Kerry’s unbeaten run of 11 SFC games against Cork on Upper Lewis Road since 1998, the average margin is two points. “I never had an issue about Killarney,” says O’Sullivan. “The majority of the (Cork) public would nearly prefer to be going down there.”

Davis senses Kerry have more to be fearful of than Cork. “Look, there is nothing much really in Cork and Kerry matches barring huge obvious ones like 2014. Cork are going there with one objective and that’s to win the game; they’re not going down to make up the numbers and I fancy their chances. I think they’re coming around lovely. Contrary to public belief, I’d be shocked if there is much between the sides on Sunday.

“There was a lot of pressure on them but it has been taken off their back with the Tipperary win. The fact the match is being played in Killarney has also taken pressure off the set-up in that there would be a lot more expectation and a lot more public pressure if it was the first game being played in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

"Again, Cork are going in with all to win and nothing to lose and if I was Kerry I would be a lot more concerned because they don’t really know what Cork are going to come with.”

O’Sullivan calls on the players to take matters by the scruff of the neck. “I don’t know if the favourites’ tag ever suited Cork and now nobody is giving them a chance again. We have to stop looking at every other reason why they’re not winning. People need to look at themselves and go out and perform.

“If Cork perform to their abilities then anything is possible. Against the green and gold on their home patch, you need to perform, full stop.”

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