March. Cork-Kerry, yes. Paul Galvin helping to publicise the game, yes.
All-Ireland champions rolling into town, yes.
But it’s still March.
Stephen O’Brien wasn’t overdoing the traditional rivalry yesterday: the Kenmare clubman gave a measured appraisal of Sunday’s significance.
“You always want to do well against Cork, I work in Cork (Eli Lilly) and I wouldn’t want to face into slagging the day afterwards if you lost.
“It carries significance because Cork are serious All-Ireland contenders, as much as a lot of other counties.
“I know ‘putting down a marker’ is the biggest cliche but with Cork you’ve got a high probability of meeting them in the Munster championship, and you want a good base going into that.
“Also, we want to ensure we qualify for a semi-final in the league. Cork and Kerry are both on four points and we’re close enough to the top of the table compared to where we were in the doldrums at this stage, in the last couple of years.”
Last year the doldrums would have been an improvement when Kerry lost heavily to Cork in Tralee. O’Brien calls it the fork in the road: “I don’t know about the tactics that day in Austin Stack Park when they beat us by ten points, whether that affected us on the day but it certainly had an effect on our year. That was a watershed moment.
“We’d lost the first couple of games, then won three games in a row, so we thought we were going well, so that day was a serious comedown to lose what we did.
“The next week Declan (O’Sullivan) came back in — he hadn’t been there for a lot of the league and when he came back he laid down a few hard truths for some fellas. We went to Portugal not long after that, too on a training camp. We had 11 or 12 weeks from then to the championship, so we had a lot of work to do and a lot of time to do it.”
There’s a different dynamic this year; there always is for the All-Ireland champions.
“At the start of last year everyone was writing us off, now that they’re saying we’re favourites it doesn’t affect us too much.
“The only people who really matter are those in the panel, within the set-up, it’s their opinions that matter at the end of the day.
“It’s hard enough to win one All-Ireland, let alone back to back (titles), complacency might have been an issue with some teams in the past but hopefully it won’t be an issue for us with the competition we have.
“If you’re complacent you won’t be on the team, simple as that. Paul [Galvin] and the lads have unbelievable experience and it’s not like teaching other lads, it’s being in their presence and so on.”
O’Brien will see a lot of familiar faces on Sunday. He came up through the proving ground of third level competition in the famous skull and crossbones of UCC, after all.
“I know a lot of the Cork lads through the Sigerson, and you’d always want to get one over lads you know. The Sigerson would benefit any player coming up, I know myself it was a massive factor in that it brought me in to play Fresher, and I got experience of the Sigerson under Billy (Morgan) then in second year. You’re going up against players from other counties, you can measure yourself against them in training and you realise that you’re not too far off it. And what Billy’s done since coming back in with UCC is amazing, winning the Sigerson last year and they could have won it this year as well.”
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