The former All-Ireland-winning captain knows that sounds a little odd considering they barely avoided relegation in the Allianz League but he fancies their chances.
“I actually think Cork will go well. I’d be confident they will be one of the three to go through in Munster,” said Ó hAilpin. “On the basis that in the GAA year there are two seasons; the season of muck and shite and the season of hard ground where the weather will get better. Playing the marquee games in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Thurles, and Croke Park I think will be more suited to this Cork team than playing in Wexford Park on a dreary Sunday afternoon in February afternoon getting horsed out of it by 15 or 16-stone guys. That gives me confidence that I reckon Cork will hit the ground running when the games start.”
There’s another reason that the three-time All-Ireland winner is optimistic, the fact that the pressure is off and nobody is expecting much.
He continued: “Obviously you’d like to be in a situation like Kilkenny after winning the league and full of confidence. But in some ways, Cork going in as underdogs is better. Many people could be writing off Cork but how many times have you seen them perform better that way?
“If I was managing, I wouldn’t like that disguise, I’d prefer to go in after a good league and to be sending out a strong message like Kilkenny have done but Cork, traditionally, can go into the Championship not expected to win anything and come out and topple teams.”
Ó hAilpín used to be part of those Cork teams himself and, for a while in the mid-2000s, they set the agenda in the small ball game.
Regarded as one of the most influential half-backs of his generation, Ó hAilpin retired six years ago and now enjoys a more low-key existence.
He helps out at various levels in his club and works with the UCC Freshers team, along with Tom Kenny, but has no plans to return to the county setup. He’s simply enjoying his weekends too much.
“Fellas that have been used to getting a kick out of something can’t stop, but I’d be the opposite — I’m a pig in shite now! Sundays now are glorious,” he smiled.
“For 15 years, Sundays for me meant either living in a hotel room, getting lambasted by a manager in a dressing room, or spending an evening chasing Henry Shefflin or Eddie Brennan, or Eoin Kelly.
“Then going back on the bus for a three-hour journey, and if you lost, it felt like 10 hours. You’d go home, you’d barely get to say hello to your partner, who is probably in bed at that stage and then the alarm rings the following morning to go into work.
“That was my Sunday for 15 years, so you can imagine my Sundays now — it’s heaven! There’s a part of me saying, ‘Look, I’ve done a good 15 years and I just want to do something different like relaxing’.
“Sunday for me now is read the papers — something that we couldn’t do, we were told by managers not to read the papers over the years — enjoy a nice fry now and then, hit tennis with the wife, come back, game on TV and if it’s a nice day have the barbecue on. Lovely! That’s my Sunday!”
Ó hAilpin’s brothers, Setanta, and Aisake, hurled for Cork too but have no plans to get involved in any capacity either.
“They are still in Australia, Setanta got married, Aisake is not,” said Sean Óg. “They are no longer playing Aussie Rules, Setanta finished with the (Greater Western Sydney) Giants three years ago so he finished professionally. Himself and Aisake played local footy then, semi-pro, and finished up this year. So they are just working. They are not coming back.”
It’s left Sean Óg flying the flag at Na Piarsaigh, a club he admits has had tough times since last winning the county championship in 2004.
“When our club was doing well, it was like the Roman Empire falling apart, the guys in the Coliseum eating their grapes, forgetting what was going on around them,” said Ó hAilpín.
“I mean that’s what happened, a neglect there for a decade, and I can see why that can happen fairly quickly, because all the focus is on the adult teams. But they forget guys like us on the adult teams were depreciating assets and they need to be replaced fairly quickly. The focus was just taken off it. There is a focus on it now.”