WEDNESDAY lunchtime in Cork IT and in Paul Kerrigan’s sporting life, success screams from everywhere.
A glorious Sigerson Cup campaign kick-started the year back in February. Throughout the spring the Cork seniors plotted their way to tomorrow’s NFL Division Two final against Monaghan with Kerrigan on board. Then on Monday night Nemo Rangers got another county SFC challenge off to a successful start against Ballincollig.
About the only fly in the ointment for the Liverpool fan is Andrei Arshavin. The Russian’s four goal haul for Arsenal the previous night leads Kerrigan to ruefully concede that Rafael Bentitez’s side’s title hopes are gone. But there is plenty to sooth that wound. On Monday night he was back at the coalface with Nemo, growing accustomed to the fact that he is a county star returning to base.
“It’s different looking at if from the other side. I’ve been so used to training with Nemo when the county boys would be away and I’ve been there waiting for months for club games. Now you wouldn’t be around the club as often as you’d like to be, and I was only there for a week before the Ballincollig match. It was a good win on Monday but I thought I was cat, I couldn’t really get into it. Still the main thing is to get over the first round.”
He may paint his display in an unflattering light, but it’s hard to argue with the persuasive evidence of his spring form. Club commitments stalled his initial entry onto the Cork senior squad last year, so 2009 was his first time stepping out in the league arena. That debut was in a modest setting, a meagre 528 souls filing through the turnstiles to see Cork destroy Wexford. “It was probably an ideal way to start because Wexford were down with injuries and hadn’t been going well. I did well enough and got the start against Monaghan. It was hostile up there with the tight pitch. But those are the kinds of games you want to play.”
Three weeks ago against Armagh he exploded onto the radar. A devastating display had a 0-5 haul as its centrepiece and catapults him into the frame for the bigger days ahead. Yet there have been plenty signposts on route to this point.
His DNA pulsed with football from the beginning. Jimmy Kerrigan’s playing days were stockpiled with medals from several grades and teams, and his son Paul was exposed to a culture of football and success from day one. Plenty evenings were whiled away in Nemo growing up, always a team to watch train or a ball to kick.
“I’d have been very aware of the Nemo tradition when I was young. It was very important in my family. My dad was a huge influence but he was never too pushy. I’m very proud of what he’s done but you want to try to make a name for yourself.”
Kerrigan grew up seeing Nemo teams flourishing on the big stages. The details are sketchy in his mind of St Patrick’s Day 1993 when Jimmy was corner-back on a Nemo side that put Castlebar Mitchels to the sword, but the celebrations and impact still resonate. Ten years on he was more appreciative when they clipped the wings of Crossmolina in an All-Ireland club final and Colin Corkery’s late point from downtown stands as the best score he’s ever witnessed.
It was only a matter of time before that became his domain. He first became a senior starter in 2005 in a county-winning season that was only halted by Antrim’s St Galls the following February in the All-Ireland semi-final. Fourteen months ago they reached St Patrick’s Day again but St Vincent’s edged them out by a point.
“We were gutted after that All-Ireland. But when we lost everyone was together and we came into the club, there was a brilliant standing ovation. That meant a lot as especially after losing, you think you’ve left people down. The goal is still to make up for that.”
Away from Nemo, he continued his education through Cork minor and U-21 squads. He reckons the latter was of incalculable value and he departed with an All-Ireland medal in 2007. Whenever talk surfaces of scrapping the grade, Kerrigan immediately rails against it. His views on the other bugbear of the burnout brigade, the Sigerson Cup, are equally forthright.
When Nemo were outdone by Drom-Broadford’s packed defence in the Munster club last November, he found solace in Cork IT immediately. The following Tuesday they went to Dublin for a HE league semi-final against Jordanstown, defeating them in a gripping clash. It was the perfect antidote and his desire for football was back. “I was wrecked going into that game but felt great after it. The campaign was brilliant after that and to win it was a huge honour. The thing about the Sigerson is that there’s fellas there that you’ll never play with again in your life. I remember playing against Liam Sheehan and Aidan Shine in the Corn Uí Mhuirí, and then you end up winning a Sigerson with them. That’s very enjoyable and very special.”
He’s still toying with the idea of doing a Masters in CIT next year as he finishes his Business Studies degree next month. The grim economic realities are tilting him in that direction but for the summer he will have a singular focus on Cork. If 2008 was about settling into the groove of a senior inter-county player, 2009 is about pushing for the starting fifteen.
“I still won’t feel I’m there until the championship. If I get a run in championship, then we’ll see how well I’ll do. I had to bide my time getting to senior but I wasn’t good enough to make it when I finished U-21. Maybe at the time I thought I was but I realise now that I wasn’t. I feel I’ve matured more as a player.”
Tomorrow in Croke Park is his chance to show that. Now he’s ready to take to the senior stage.
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