With Fitzgerald Stadium “only 25 minutes back the road” from home in Kiskeam, hardly a summer went by during Seán Meehan’s youth where he didn’t attend a game in Killarney.
Meehan returns to Fitzgerald Stadium this weekend, though not in the usual spectating capacity. Tomorrow’s Munster final, he reveals, will be his first time lining out on the Killarney sod.
The 22-year-old played minor and U20 for Cork during his teenage years, winning an All-Ireland medal in the latter age-grade two years ago, but neither campaign took him to Killarney.
With Kiskeam just a stone’s throw from the Cork-Kerry border, the rivalry is more pronounced in Meehan’s neck of the woods.
“It’s a big thing at home. Neighbours either side of the border and they’d be having the craic with each other and all that,” said the Cork centre-back.
“The rivalries are massive and they’re the lifeblood of the game. But once you’re involved, you’ve to park those things to the side and really try and do your job, basically.”
Meehan became involved in the Cork senior set-up in December 2019, his call-up coming off the back of his centre-back role in Cork’s all-conquering U20 campaign.
He didn’t see any game-time during Cork’s five league outings pre-Covid and even when inter-county action resumed in October of last year, his league debut amounted to 10 minutes at the end of the county’s Round 6 hammering of Louth.
There was nothing to indicate his inclusion from the off in their subsequent Munster Championship opener against Kerry and yet there he was at number six on the Cork team named on the Thursday night before the game.
He entered the fixture with all of 10 Division 3 league minutes under his belt.
Talk about being turfed in at the deep end.
“Yeah, you could say that,” the Mary Immaculate College student agrees, with a smile.
“It was a big game, but they’re the games you dream of playing growing up. To be able to get the chance to do that, I didn’t want to let the opportunity go to waste. It was a nice game to be involved in and we came out on the right side of it.”
Did his inexperience lend itself to a nervousness beforehand, particularly given the forward unit he was being tasked with patrolling?
“I couldn’t really wait, to be honest. I’d nothing to lose, in my eyes.
I was coming up against far bigger names than myself. I probably relished the challenge to mark some of these fellas, rather than being a bit fearful.
The championship debutant not only lasted the 90-plus minutes, he was a central figure in the creation of Mark Keane’s match-winning goal having broken two tackles to take Cork deep into opposition territory after a minute of stradling Kerry’s 45-metre line.
“It was late in the game. I said I was going to try and run the ball as best I could. I managed to get past the first tackle and was in, possibly had an opportunity for a shot as well, but at the time it was nearly made up in my head that I’d pass it off.
“There was no point in taking a tired shot. Damien Gore was just on the pitch, other forwards like Luke Connolly were nearby who would have had a better chance of scoring a shot than me. The shot for a point didn’t materialise as well as I would have hoped when I broke through, but it worked out in the end.”
He retained his place for the Munster final and while that particular fixture wasn’t half as memorable, Meehan knows he benefited from the delay in the 2020 inter-county season.
Had the league concluded when it was supposed to and had the Championship held its summer slot, he is acutely aware he might not have got a look in.
“I wasn’t playing well enough (for inclusion pre-Covid). I was making matchday panels, but wasn’t coming on and wasn’t playing well enough to come on, basically.
“I went away during lockdown, played with my club. I came back to training in good enough form and got myself in contention then to play. I started playing a lot better after the break, so it must have done me good.”
No question, though, but he has yet to get the full inter-county experience, both this season and last of a stop-start nature. “It has been strange, yeah. Definitely coming into the panel and talking to players about how things go for the course of a year, I haven’t had that yet. It’s been a lot different, but I know no different. You’re taking everything as it comes and I’m enjoying every bit of it.”