Stephen Cronin was fascinated by Tommy Walsh’s Laochra Gael programme earlier this year. The two men may specialise in different codes, but Cronin, like many others, is an admirer of the former Kilkenny half-back.
Referee: R Hickey, Clare
It wasn’t the Tullaroan man’s skill set, however, that Cronin was intrigued by. It was that he never allowed his height come against him.
Tommy Walsh stands 5ft 9in tall, or 5ft 10in, depending on what match programme you’re referencing. Stephen Cronin stands 5ft 9 and a half inches tall (“the half is very important” he quips, “it means I can round up to 5ft 10in for the programme”).
The Cork football wing-back is one of those players who is forever doubting himself. He’ll head away from training at Páirc Uí Rinn thinking, ‘there’s no way I’ll be playing next weekend’. And when he does get selected, he’s wondering how long he’ll last.
Throw into the pot then the usual ploy of the opposition to send a couple of early restarts down Cronin’s channel in a bid to take advantage of his height.
That Walsh had an insecurity or two was refreshing to learn.
“He felt he needed to give absolutely everything he had because he was that bit smaller than others. That really hit home with me because we are of similar sizes,” said the 21-year-old.
Cronin’s self-belief, though, should be travelling an upward graph. After missing Cork’s opening two league fixtures against Galway and Kildare owing to a hamstring problem, he started their remaining five games. Indeed, he was involved for all but six minutes of those five games. The number seven shirt is his to give away this summer.
“It does boost your own confidence getting more and more game-time, but at the same time, I’d be always doubting myself. If you were fully confident you were going to be playing, it probably wouldn’t be good for the team.
“My way of thinking leads a lot to working solo in your own time, saying, ‘my left foot or left solo can be improved’. Always trying to do something. The other side of that is you can go too far and train too hard.
“I do a lot in Nemo and I’ve gym membership in Rochestown Park so I do a lot of swimming there. I spend a lot of the summer out on the pitch where I’d bring the dog. It’s good. It keeps you ticking over and you feel you are doing something even if you are only messing around.”
Given his height, he’s put years of hard graft into his fielding. The timing of the jump, he reckons, is everything.
“I think people view me as having a disadvantage. You’ll find in a lot of games that an early call will come from the opposition to put a kick-out down on me. I do seem to be winning a lot of them.
“I had eight or nine marks in the league this year. It tends to stop after that.
“People view it as more of a problem than it actually is. There’s a lot to do with the timing of your jump... and a small push on back!
“I played midfield with the club all the way up to U21 so that was definitely a help. When you are that bit smaller, you are looking to get that break, to make sure that your man is not catching it cleanly.”
With Cork’s championship campaign kicking off this evening in Dungarvan, the Nemo defender is hoping for more action than he saw last summer – selection at left corner-back for last July’s qualifier against Donegal was his one and only start for the Cork footballers in 2016.
“I was on the team for the 2015 championship and then a week after we lost to Kildare, I broke my leg during a league game with Nemo.
“I remember it was August 2 because that is my mother’s birthday. She got a spin in the ambulance for her birthday.
“I had metal inserted in my leg the following day at CUH and that was 2015 done. I returned to action the following January but didn’t get a look in after our U21 campaign finished up with Cork. The two years were quite different.
“There was no game-time last year. I was training away with Cork in the morning at weekends and then playing challenges with Nemo in the afternoons to get some game-time to keep myself fresh. I wasn’t getting in. I wasn’t up to it, maybe.
“There is huge excitement at being back involved this summer. It is a bit surreal, to be honest.”
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