Cork hurling selector Donal O’Mahony and John Meyler go back quite a bit.
The pair first crossed paths in the late eighties; Meyler was Cork minor hurling coach, O’Mahony a Cork minor panellist.
The latter was a three-year Cork minor and four-year Cork U21, but a back injury would cut his hurling career short.
The pair would not run into each other again until the early noughties and this time in an entirely different capacity. O’Mahony, having started out in Farranferris, joined the teaching staff at Christian Brothers College on Sidney Hill in 1998. A young David Meyler enrolled at the secondary school a few years later and so many a parent-teacher meeting saw Donal on one side of the desk and John on the other.
O’Mahony has played a hugely significant role in getting hurling off the ground at what is predominantly a rugby-centred school — current Cork panellists Robbie O’Flynn, Michael O’Halloran and Billy Hennessy are past pupils — and, while David did play a bit of hurling for Christians, it was at football where he stood out.
The qualities O’Mahony saw in Meyler back then are no different to those which Meyler senior now brings to the table as Cork hurling manager.
I remember watching Dave out in Blarney one day when he was in Christians. He looked good, but if you asked me was he a Premiership soccer player, I would have said, ‘no’, but he had the guts, the character, the ambition to win,” O’Mahony recalls. “He had a fantastic work ethic. There is no surprise as to where that came from. John’s work-rate is phenomenal.
“What I noticed during the Munster round-robin is that John would come into the dressing room and say that game is over. He’d move onto the next game straightaway. That’s what he has taken from Dave and his involvement in the professional scene over in England.”
Having served as goalkeeping coach during Kieran Kingston’s tenure, Meyler asked the Bishopstown clubman to step up to the role of selector ahead of the 2018 campaign.
“Coming in on the back of a successful year last year was a challenge for both the squad and the management to create a new environment to push the thing on. We concentrated on a few things, one of which was character. We wanted to build the character of the team.
“We felt it was a difficult year ahead and we wanted strong characters in the squad to deal with those situations and that’s what transpired.
“Eight points down in a Munster final and we came back and won it. Nine points ahead against Tipp, they drew us in, but we still pulled a result out of it. The character of the team has been very impressive and there have been a lot of curve balls thrown at us and we have gotten to an All-Ireland semi-final. The other thing we wanted was good decision-making and keeping the lads calm in pressure situations. That was in evidence in the Munster final. At half-time, we were in a difficult situation and we were cool, calm and calculated and able to turn it around in the second-half and come out as Munster champions.”
The players who delivered provincial success last month are those who were there last year and in 2016, the first of Kingston’s two-year reign. O’Mahony recalls the wet Munster championship afternoon in Thurles where Cork went with a sweeper and wound up nine-points adrift of Tipp. He affords that management a lot of credit for turning around the county’s fortunes before handing over the baton. “The day against Tipperary in the rain was a bad day at the office. It was the fault of nobody. We had a plan and it didn’t work out. We learned from it. There was an identity crisis at that stage. We were trying things and they weren’t working. The management were trying what they thought was best.
An awful lot of work went on that year to try and turn the curve in the right direction. Great credit must go to that management, led by Kieran Kingston, to lay the platform which we inherited this year.
As for Limerick, O’Mahony has been an admirer long before their quarter-final victory over Kilkenny.
“I was doing interviews before the Munster final and I said, they were the form team in the country. With so many games this year, every team is going to have peaks and troughs. They had one trough and that was against Clare. You could put that down to it being their third game in a row and very few teams won their third game in a row, but if you take that game out of it and look at the results in the league against Galway and Tipperary and their championship games they have won and how they have won them, they have been really, really good.”