John Fintan Daly played a straight bat ahead of Knocknagree’s Munster junior football final, if you remember. He pointed out that Cork clubs had a dismal record in the competition against Kerry opposition but he believed in his own side and said as much.

No bluffing.

“I don’t believe in that,” says Daly. “Maybe I’m different to other people but I believe in talking straight about things like that.

“The match turned out near enough to what I expected, a real battle of wills. The break of the ball went out way on this occasion, but the result was far, far overdue.

“Imagine, Kerry had won 20 out of 20 competitions against Cork in junior and intermediate in the previous ten years.

"A few weeks before our game An Ghaeltacht had beaten Mallow in the intermediate in Mallow, so to win the first in 21 was great. That kind of domination is very unhealthy.”

Knocknagree edged out Dromid Pearses in extra time in the final.

“There were different factors involved - Knocknagree being on the border and possibly having a different mental approach to Kerry teams as a result.

“That became apparent during the game because if we didn’t have massive self-belief we wouldn’t have gotten though - we wouldn’t have even reached extra time.

“We conceded two very bad goals from our point of view early on, particularly the second goal, which was bad luck. That kept them in the game, and we had to fight our way out of a very difficult situation, but that was nothing new to us. We’ve had to do that over and over.”

Knocknagree’s expansive playing style has been key to their progress.

“Winning the big championships is fantastic, there’s a great bonus when you can win in style. We go out to outscore the opposition, and I get criticised because of that - ‘oh your full-back line is very open’.

"We hear that kind of thing all the time, but you can’t be all things to all men. Our scoring’s been pretty consistent over our championship games, though.

“It’s come to a stage in serious top-class football that they’re almost looking down their noses at you for trying to play football, and that brings me to Dublin and their emergence.

“I think that’s fantastic for the game of football because Dublin will take you on any way you want. They’ll go at you. If you have a sweeper they’ll push up on that sweeper.

“They concede scores, they have tight, tough backs but they don’t play a sweeper and they attack you. That’s the right example and that’s what we’re trying to achieve.

“Now, it all depends on the hand you’re dealt as well. At the moment we have some fast forwards, and they’ll score if they get the supply.

"If that’s your strength is then you should supply them; if you don’t have that option and you have to fight it out and defend, so be it, but I don’t think people want to come and watch that kind of football.

“The more of us that go out and play a positive game, the more people will want to watch.”

Knocknagree celebrate Munster JFC last year.
Knocknagree celebrate Munster JFC last year.

Knocknagree take on Naomh Colmcille of Donegal in tomorrow’s All-Ireland JFC semi-final.

“I have them well researched, I research all my opponents,” says Daly. “I’ve watched them on video. They have some key players, three of them were on the Donegal U21 team in 2017, when they won the Ulster championship and their age profile would be like ours.

“They were beaten in the Donegal intermediate final in 2015, so historically they’d be an intermediate team there. They got caught in 2016 and were relegated to junior but popped straight back up again in 2017.

“Not only did they win the Donegal junior title, they became the first Donegal team to win the Ulster junior title, and they were underdogs in a number of their games.

“As well as that, they went to Edinburgh and beat Dunedin Connollys there. Now people might not think much of that win, but last year Dunedin Connollys beat the Leinster junior champions in the quarter-final of the All-Ireland.

“In the semi-final they were beaten by The Rock St Patrick’s of Tyrone by one point - they in turn only lost the All-Ireland final to Glenbeigh by two points.

“So beating them over there was a bigger achievement than it looked. No question these are worthy opponents, and they probably consider themselves an intermediate rather than a junior team.” It’s a long haul to Mullingar tomorrow for the game.

“That’s the beauty of this competition - you have a team from the extreme north of the country playing a team from the extreme south of the country. Mullingar is halfway between the two, which gives an idea of the geography.

“It’s a once-off. It’ll come down to whoever can impose their game plan on the opposition, but we won’t change the way we play. It’s gotten us this far.”

AIB Club JFC semi-final

Knocknagree (Cork) v Naomh Colmcille (Donegal)

Today: TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar, 2pm

Referee: J Gilmartin, Sligo

Bet: Knocknagree 4/11, Colmcille 5/2, Draw 15/2


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