EVEN amidst the euphoria of ending Cork’s two decades of football misery, Conor Counihan still exuded considerable poise and calmness in Croke Park after yesterday’s All-Ireland final triumph.
Since being part of the team that claimed honours in 1990, he has gained an acute awareness of the suffering the county has experienced on the national football stage.
In the 1993 final he was involved as a player when Derry toppled Cork, in 1999 he was a member of the backroom team as Meath proved the conquerors, in 2007 he was in the role of a fan as Kerry crushed the Rebel dream and last year Counihan patrolled the sideline as manager when Kerry proved too good once more.
After experiencing such anguish, victory would incite raucous celebrations in most yet Counihan was a figure of quiet contentment underneath the Hogan Stand and was most pleased for his players.
“There is a sense of relief, so we just sit back and enjoy the moment,’’ he said.
“Some people have a different way of expressing it. Maybe some fellas might be seen at 12pm or 2am expressing it! We will try and hold the head a small bit for now. It seems a long time 20 years but it’s obviously fantastic for the lads. I think it made it all the sweeter that they showed the ultimate resolve and made it over the line.
“It’s great for each and every one of them. When I spoke to them on Thursday night I said we have 30 odd good guys here, but also that there was an awful lot of guys who have been involved down through the years who had to move on. Those guys had as much of a part to play as you because they soldiered when the going was tough.
“In the last 20 years the likes of Billy (Morgan) and Larry (Tompkins) kept it going. We were very fortunate coming in to have a lot of work put in by people like John Cleary at U21 level, in the third level colleges Keith Ricken and people like that. We were landed with a fantastic group of people.”
Despite the strength of their personnel, this Cork squad have had to endure plenty adversity after a series of shattering defeats in recent seasons.
In Counihan’s eyes the key to ensuring they were not hindered by past scars was creating a positive atmosphere in the camp. Negativity was not tolerated and there was little store placed in the critics of the team.
“We said at the outset of the year in terms of pressure, you can bring that on yourself. Critics can say ‘look you should be doing this or that’ but if we are going to listen to that we are going nowhere. We have to maintain positivity. The best way we have managed that is to ignore those negative people and the critics.
“Some of them are quite legitimate. There are others who, unfortunately, whether it is sport or anything else do it on the basis that it earns dollars. In fairness to the people around here I think they have been very reasonable to us. But, some people are exploiting it in public and exploiting it in sport, and not just our sport. I think that’s a wider reflection on society. I am drifting away probably, but I do think positivity is the key to any success. You just shut down the negatives.”
The lessons they had accumulated in recent years clearly benefited Cork yesterday. At half-time they trailed 0-8 to 0-5 after a sub-standard first-half display. But there was no wild panic at the break as they remained composed.
“We learnt from experience that panic doesn’t get us anywhere. We just have to steady it down. We had a few opportunities early on and we didn’t finish them, but we were obviously creating a few.
“We faded a bit and came back a bit. We knew that we hadn’t played our best football yet and we knew if could maintain our composure it would come and thankfully it did.
“This year there were times when no doubt our experience played a part. We have witnessed it the last couple of years coming up against a very good Kerry team, that experience, you just couldn’t buy it.”
The consistent reliability that Daniel Goulding offered from placed balls in the second-half was instrumental to their success in Counihan’s mind.
“He is a phenomenal guy. He has grown over the last two years. It takes a lot to stand up and take those big kicks and that big ball. You need fellas like that.’’
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