Five steps back and four to the side — a free-taking routine which has transformed Cathal O’Mahony’s prowess from the dead ball and one which Colm O’Neill was instrumental in bringing about.
Cork U20 full-forward O’Mahony nailed three placed-ball efforts in Saturday’s All-Ireland final, hiking to 12 the number of frees he converted across their four championship outings.
The two he landed off the floor during the second half at O’Moore Park were particularly impressive. Certainly, neither could be classed as straightforward given both were taken from out near the main stand sideline around 45m from the Dublin posts.
Described by John Divilly as a “special archer” in these pages on Saturday, Longford footballer Mickey Quinn, present in Portlaoise, tweeted that O’Mahony is “one of the best strikers of a ball off the ground I’ve seen in a long time”.
O’Mahony revealed he kicks at least 150 frees a week and explained how selector Colm O’Neill, someone the young Mitchelstown forward has long admired, helped him become the free-taker he is.
“The free-taking doesn’t come in one day, we practise the whole year long. Having Colm O’Neill in the background was unbelievable,” says O’Mahony.
“The very first night we met Colm, he told a couple of us free-takers to make out a routine and stick to it. And my routine has never changed since. Then it becomes about getting the strike, accuracy, and curl right because we have the distance.
“My routine would be five steps back and four to the side. I stick to that. I was always a free-taker with the minors coming up, but each time you’d just set the ball down and judge it yourself. It helps immensely when you have a set routine.
“When you get a free, the first thing that comes into your head is the routine. You are counting the steps in your head, then you are looking at the ball, looking at the posts, and judging the wind before going for it.”
O’Mahony said there was a collective shakiness after a horror 12-minute opening but never questioned their ability to reel Dublin in.
“We were seven down against Tyrone with 24 minutes left so we knew we still had the whole of the second half, when we’d have the wind, to peg it back. That made it easier. We kept to our system and knew it would come right eventually. As we’ve said all year long, we’re dogs — and dogs fight in packs. We kept our pack going and we kept the county going.”
He added: “We said before the game that any sniff of a goal, we’d go for it. You could feel the weight lifting as the goals went in and the crowd really started to get behind us. We weren’t dead and buried, we were coming back. And then we won the kick-out after we got our goal and got a point. That helped as well.
“It was the biggest sporting day of our lives. It was all about belief in each other because we are brothers. There were loads of lads that hadn’t played inter-county before. They refreshed the whole system. They helped us win the All-Ireland.”
O’Mahony, who supplied 2-20 on their run to All-Ireland glory, was adamant that Saturday’s victory is “just the beginning” for this group.
“The seniors and minors are going well. To have Cork football on the rise, we are always a small bit in the shadow of the hurlers, but it is about belief. We always had the footballers, it was about getting a good enough 15 on the field with the right mindset and playing the game the way it should be.
“U20 is just a stepping stone. Colm O’Neill won U21 All-Irelands and then won a senior All-Ireland. This is just the beginning for us. Hopefully, all the lads stick it out and push on to achieve their full potential.”