Paul Kerrigan doesn’t have fond memories of Semple Stadium. Mind you, he doesn’t exactly hold fond memories of Tipperary either, but it’s the venue rather than the team it houses that has caused him more grief in recent years.
A week after their Munster final replay defeat to Kerry last July, the Cork footballers landed into Thurles ready to relaunch their championship through the back door just as they had successfully done the previous two years.
Never mind turbulence mid-flight, this particular effort never left the runway. First went Alan O’Connor, the Cork midfielder stretchered off the field with a ruptured cruciate at the end of the first quarter. Next went Kevin O’Driscoll, the Cork forward sent off after 54 minutes. And then went Cork, the 1-21 to 1-13 defeat to Kildare bringing the curtain down on their championship involvement.
Lastly went Brian Cuthbert, the Cork manager calling time on his term at the helm four days after their traumatic evening in Thurles. Understandable then why captain Paul Kerrigan isn’t giddy with excitement at having to revisit Tom Semple’s field this Sunday.
“It’s a great place to play, we just didn’t represent ourselves or our county too well the last time we were up there. We know that,” he says.
Indeed, Kerrigan reckons Tipp will attempt to use their familiarity with the venue to their advantage, given it lies in stark contrast to Cork’s nightmare experience last year.
The counties haven’t locked horns since 2014, that Munster semi-final meeting taken from underneath Tipperary’s nose courtesy of three Aidan Walsh points from the 65th minute onwards.
“If it wasn’t for Walshie that day we would have lost. Straight up. They might see it as a bit of revenge — I mean they should have taken us on our own patch. Plus the fact we were beaten in Thurles last year probably gives them a bit of a fillip as well.
“We’re under no illusions. It’s Tipp in Thurles, they’ve made massive progress over the last few years, at underage, at senior. We’re not looking beyond it for a second.”
Sunday marks Peadar Healy’s first championship game at the helm and although the league ended in a less than satisfactory manner, 29-year-old Kerrigan has been impressed by the backroom team put in place by the Glengarriff-based Garda, which includes old team-mates Paudie Kissane and Conor McCarthy.
“The day of the manager looking after a huge amount is gone. There are top quality guys looking after different areas. Peadar is a very good man-manager, but he has to get the right team to help improve us. They’re all looking to get that 1% extra out of us.
“Conor and Paudie are professional guys, they don’t take any crap from anyone, and they’re playing with their clubs still so they’re very knowledgeable and could join in with an A v B if they wanted to. They’ve been their own men since they’ve come in, they’ve really made their mark.”
The Nemo Rangers forward says Kissane has been particularly helpful in drawing up specific programmes for each player.
“The last few weeks have been particularly tough. We’ve been working on our game plans, but also strength and conditioning with Paudie, honing in on what we need [to do].
“There’s no hiding, this is the hardest time of year. I always find it the most difficult. It’s like another pre-season, with a greater volume of work. You’re doing a pre-season at Christmas, but everyone’s a bit slower, at the same level and just getting back into it. Now you’re expected to be far quicker, more tuned in.
“You’d do at least one day a week in the gym together and maybe a second day yourself if you’re not doing running or a swim/recovery session. Paudie is very diligent so everyone gets a second day of work tailored to them.”
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