For Ian Maguire, it’s all about learning from the experiences.
Whether it be how to close out games properly like Cork should have done against Donegal two years ago, or taking the good things out of St Finbarr’s epic battles with Nemo in last year’s county finals, or even taking the advice of clubmate Rory McCarthy on not filling himself up with jellies before big championship games, there’s always something to be learned, something to improve on.
Even though he’s only 24, there’s no doubting that Maguire is one of the leaders on this Cork football team. He was a shining light on a dark day in Killarney last summer and this year has found himself in the captain’s role. It seems to rest easy on him, however, as he’s learned from, well, experience.
“Captaincy can be kind of a funny one, you can see certain players being burdened by it but I’m just one of these players who learns from others. I learned from Shieldsy (Michael Shields), I learned from (Paul) Kerrigan that you go out and lead by the way you play, it doesn’t matter what you say.
“I just followed on, Shieldsy’s lead, he doesn’t say much but you know he means business when he crosses the line. It was a great experience during the year, even with the ups and downs. There’s nothing harder than facing the media after a tough loss with no answers. But look, that’s part and parcel of it and it’s been a good experience so far and we got off on the right foot against Tipperary and we’re hoping for more now the next day.”
The next day sees Cork take on the old enemy at home in the revamped Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the first time since 2014 and it’s something he’s looking forward to.
“I love playing in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, I love playing in Cork, to be honest, whether it be in Páirc Uí Rinn or Páirc Uí Chaoimh. It’s savage when you’re playing big games in big stadiums, it means a lot, especially when there’s a crowd roaring you on.
!The two county finals last year were a great experience albeit we came out on the wrong side. But when you’re playing your best football on the big stage it’s important as a player — because it gives you more confidence.”
Confidence is something Cork have been short on in recent years so the performance against Tipperary in the semi-final was a much needed fillip.
“I suppose there was a mixture of emotions really. You don’t want to say relief, because it sounds like it was a desperate situation and it never was that. But I suppose ‘proud’ would be the word I’d use. I remember just a couple of supporters patting me on the back and it’s something, as a young player, that I haven’t experienced in the Cork jersey yet at senior level. It could be different for the likes of (Paul) Kerrigan, Aidan Walsh and Donncha (O’Connor) obviously, because they’ve done it all, but I think that was a huge thing to take away from the game, the validation we got from the supporters, which was something different we got from the last couple of years.
“Because we’ve played in tight games but we haven’t got the result, and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how good you play if you can’t win the big games. It doesn’t matter. We played on the front foot that day (against Tipp) right from the get-go and it was a huge result for us. But what’s giving us extra confidence going into the Munster final is that we got a big performance with the result. We didn’t just get over the line and I think we showed true class there in our performance.”
Because Cork’s last two years have ended in good performances that lacked the result?
“Yeah, I suppose, even the Donegal game two years ago. We were five points up in the first half and if we’d just managed the game properly we’d have been home and hosed. But I think that was something we did against Tipp. We lost a couple of kick-outs, I think they got three points in a row but then we went up, won a free, Kerrigan came on and it led to two more points and that’s the type of composure you need in big games. Because at this level teams are going to go on runs and you need to be able to compose yourself on the pitch and just rise up for those big moments.”
Something else that stood out from the Tipperary game was Cork’s fitness and energy levels. There was a relentlessness to their running that wasn’t there throughout the league. This suggests that a tough winter was endured, but Maguire is astute enough to know that fitness is really about perception.
“I will be one to say that we’ve always put in the work over the past couple of years. Fitness can always look funny because when you put in a bad performance people always jump to fitness. Dublin never lose and people always say that Dublin are the fittest team in Ireland!
“But I think the biggest thing in the league was we always tried to play on the front foot — bar the Cavan game, we were just flat that day, simple as.”
As Kerry loom, much like his manager, Maguire is keeping the focus internal. “I know a lot of people talk about the mental side of playing Kerry... Ronan has been preaching all year that it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, we have to worry about ourselves.
“I suppose if you’re looking at U21 the last six or seven years, bar last year, I think every player on that team (v Tipp) has beaten Kerry at U21 level. Look, it mightn’t matter for much but we’re going in there knowing we have to focus on ourselves. We have a lot of confidence and we’re excited to take on the challenge of a Munster final.”
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