IT was no surprise that Graham Canty’s first thought when the final whistle blew yesterday was not for himself but for a man left standing in familiar shoes.
Like the man from Bantry, Benny Coulter had spent the last decade weighed down by the wider championship’s market forces despite his classification as one of football’s blue chip properties.
The pair had become accustomed to offsetting those annual losses with profitable forays into the International Rules scene where they habitually add to their reputations.
So, when David Coldrick called for the ball, Canty knew what to do.
“Benny is an outstanding player and I know what it is like to lose finals,” said the 30-year old. “He has been around a long time and has a lot of experience. He has an awful lot of years left in him yet. I’m not trying to write him off just yet and he was outstanding again this year. He is a real leader on that Down team so the first thing I did was commiserate with him.”
Many another man would have lost themselves in the moment, flopped to the turf in gratitude and relief after so many near misses, but Canty’s demeanour matched that of his imperturbable manager. “It feels alright,” he said with masterly understatement. “I suppose you would feel very humble being captain of this bunch. That’s the only reason I am in here, because I am captain and I feel very humble for that.”
Canty has been through it all. He has succumbed to injuries from time to time but never to defeat and disappointment. Yesterday was his reward just as it was for other old-timers like Nicholas Murphy, Derek Kavanagh and Noel O’Leary.
All of those men carried more baggage than they would have wished for into Croke Park yesterday not to mention the tag of favourites after their lengthy spell perched just below Kerry and Tyrone on football’s summit.
“There was a small bit of pressure but pressure is a funny thing. There is only as much pressure as you make it out. There is pressure in football and there is pressure in life and you have to compare the two things. The pressure in football is no comparison to what happens outside of Croke Park or outside of Páirc Uí Chaoimh. That is real pressure, like. We are playing a sport we love.”
Their experiences of playing in All-Ireland finals may have been bad but it stood to them on this occasion, not least at half-time when they reached the sanctuary of the dressing room after a worrying first half.
Frank Cogan, team masseur and a Celtic Cross winner in 1973, set the tone. “Frank is a very calm man at the best of times and that transfers on to the players. Lads hadn’t played very well. We had made mistakes but that was because of the intensity of Down in the first half. It was like they were playing with two extra players but we had our chances as well.”
Cork’s sangfroid at that point owed itself to more than just Cogan’s zen-like state. Nicholas Murphy was already warming up while Canty and Colm O’Neill were preparing for entrances in his wake.
Though named in the team on Thursday night, Canty was always aware that the hamstring he damaged in the quarter-final defeat of Roscommon was not quite up to the task of seeing out 70 minutes.
“I kind of knew myself when I didn’t make the 15 against 15 last weekend. Even if I had played the 70 minutes of that I’d have still been struggling because I hadn’t played since before the Roscommon game. I had just missed too much football.
“I wouldn’t have been on a par with the lads that were training all the time. The lads were going well in training. It was a high tempo. I was nowhere near it.”
He may have been part of the second wave but Canty has always been of primary importance to this Cork football team.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved