AMIDST the blizzard of colour and incessant din in last month’s All-Ireland semi-final, Paul Kerrigan kept calm.
Cork were rocked from the off by the ferocity of Dublin’s challenge and Bernard Brogan’s early goal. They spent the rest of the game trying to reel Dublin in and for spells it looked that they were chasing a lost cause.
In the build-up, the Cork camp had discussed how to cope with facing the Dubs at Croke Park. Daniel Goulding and Donncha O’Connor practised frees while listening to iPods carrying recordings of match day crowds. They played A v B training matches in Páirc Ui Chaoimh with similar sounds blaring over the loudspeakers. Yet the game entered the final quarter with Dublin in the ascendancy and Cork on the ropes.
Kerrigan considered how they could turn the match around. He thought back to early February just after the team holiday to Thailand and the fight they displayed to defeat Monaghan in Scotstown. He looked at the Dublin players and figured they would tire at some stage after working furiously for an hour. And he recalled his first Munster final as a Cork senior footballer in 2008 against Kerry when a ten-points interval deficit morphed into a five-point victory.
“After being involved in a game like that two years ago, I’d never lose hope during a match,” he says. “I know it mightn’t have looked good for us. Even when Donncha got the penalty, they went straight downfield to kick two points. But I felt if we got level, we had the legs to finish. Our play might not have been pretty but it got the results. Goulding said it best before the game that last year we were playing every ball as if it was the last one we’d kick, whereas this year there’s more thought going into passes. The dressing-room was just buzzing after beating Dublin. The Tyrone game was a good feeling last year but it was more about satisfaction. This was big to win a tight game where the atmosphere had been so incredible.”
The euphoria had barely died down when Kerrigan shifted his focus elsewhere. That Thailand trip in January had marked him absent for exams to secure a Masters in Business degree in CIT but accommodating lecturers organised for himself and defender Ray Carey to retake them at the end of August. Last Monday week he put down his pen and brought his formal education days to a close. Juggling study and football demands made for an intense summer but classmates Carey and Cork hurler Cathal Naughton were in the same boat.
“There was plenty to do between studying and organising interviews for the thesis. But you’d be onto the lads and bouncing ideas off each other. Once I got into the thesis, I found it very enjoyable. Our lecturers were sound, they helped us a lot. Our first lecture was the day after the All-Ireland final last year but they told myself and Ray to stay away for the week. That helped.”
He leaves CIT with plenty memories and chooses the historic first Sigerson Cup title on home soil 18 months ago as the highlight.
“It’ll be strange leaving now and there’s a good few finishing up like Goulding, Colm O’Neill, Paul Flynn and Ray as well. Keith Ricken the GAA officer there has been a massive influence on my career. He was with me in Seandun underage teams, then with the Cork minors and the CIT Sigerson sides. He’s a great fella.”
If CIT helped hone his skills, then Nemo was where he developed them first. Growing up he was immersed in the club through the influence of his father Jimmy and Joe Kavanagh. Kerrigan’s memories of when Kavanagh rattled the net as Nemo hammered Castlebar Mitchels in the 1994 All-Ireland club final are fragmented but the ambition to emulate that team has been clear in his mind since. They’ve come desperately close. In 2006 they lost a semi-final narrowly to St Galls and two years ago suffered a final defeat to St Vincent’s.
Last August Nemo went the way of Kerry in ‘82 and Kilkenny a fortnight ago, when they saw their own five-in-a-row dreams evaporate against Carbery in the quarter-final of the Cork SFC. Kerrigan found it different having an extended off-season, for the first time since he started playing adult football he was able to jet off for a holiday in the sun or head out on the town on a Saturday night. The lay-off soon generated boredom and they were itching to get back into action. The club setup was freshened up for 2010 with Dolphin rugby coach John O’Sullivan coming on board, Eddie Kirwan grabbing the managerial reins and the squad taking pilates and spinning classes last winter. The season has run smoothly and a county semi-final date awaits next month.
Before that, there is business to be tended to in Croke Park tomorrow. He is selected at corner-forward but the smart money is that he will be released to the space on the wing where he feels at home. A searing turn of pace has always been a key weapon in his arsenal. Cork masseur Frank Cogan asked Kerrigan a couple years back had he ever turned his hand to athletics. Kerrigan shook his head. He can’t fathom the enjoyment of sprinting around a track but give him a ball and he’ll run all day. The squad will set off from Cork this afternoon bound for their lodgings in Killiney. To pass the time they will go for a swim in Dun Laoghaire or try to dethrone the table tennis kings Pearse and Colm O’Neill. The latest attraction to pass the time is FIFA 2010 contests on the PlayStation 3.
At some stage team psychologist Kevin Clancy may address the group. Clancy works with the McNulty brothers in Motiv8 and Kerrigan is a fan of his work. Clancy has a Nemo background — he will be best man at James Masters upcoming wedding — and that has created a mutual trust.
“He’s top class and the stuff he says is very useful before big matches. He helps me to focus. It’s a privilege to be in this position when you think of all the Cork players who haven’t won an All-Ireland. On the Cork panel, there’s a lot of lads trying for a long time. John Miskella’s my roommate and you look at the effort he puts in, and he’s married with two kids. You have to seize the chance now.”
Tomorrow is the time to land the big prize. Until that final whistle Kerrigan will keep on hoping he’ll get it.
1: Who scored the last hat-trick of goals in an All-Ireland SFC final and in what year ?
2: Who was the GAA President when Down won the Sam Maguire Cup for the last time?
3:This man was involved in six All-Ireland SFC finals between 1949 and 1956 as a player and referee. Who was he?
4: When last were All-Ireland hurling and football titles won by teams from the same province?
5: Which Galway family won All-Ireland SFC medals over three generations?
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