Niall McCarthy hasn’t stood on the turf of Croke Park since the afternoon of his final Cork appearance in August 2012. He’s returning this Sunday with a team he hadn’t envisaged working with, in a role he hadn’t envisaged holding down. All the same, he’s “absolutely delighted” he took Paudie Murray up on his offer.
The seed was planted last April when the Cork camogie boss and McCarthy crossed paths at a seminar in UCC, the latter having returned to college this time 12 months ago to pursue a degree in Sports Studies and Physical Education. Murray set out his plans to deliver a third consecutive All-Ireland senior crown, before inviting the former Cork hurler onto his management ticket.
McCarthy was entering exam period and so delayed giving the Cork manager an answer until the books had been put away for the summer.
“Paudie’s meticulous approach and enthusiasm really struck me,” recalls the Carrigtwohill man.
“After chatting to Paudie, I knew I would be getting involved in an extremely organised set-up where no stone was going to be left unturned for this team to be successful. When the exams finished, I came on board.
“I knew of Paudie through watching him play hurling. He was a very good hurler, much like his brother Kevin who was a serious player in his day. Paudie had a reputation of being a ‘clean’ corner-back! He did not spare the timber, that’s for sure. You can see that he brings the same drive and determination he had on the hurling field into management.”
McCarthy joined the fray early on during the round-robin phase of the championship – the 35-year old is one of seven coaches in the 10-strong backroom team - and save for the defeat away to Wexford on the second weekend of July, Cork coasted to top spot in their group to secure automatic progression to the semi-final stage.
It wasn’t the results or, indeed, the performances that most impressed him, mind. It was the collective attitude on the Tuesday and Thursday nights below in CIT.
“From day one, I was impressed. The way they train is pretty much the same as the intensity they bring to matchday. They are intrinsically motivated.
“Their attitude is incredible. There are girls there with six and 16 All-Ireland medals and yet they are so humble. They are still willing to learn, willing to grow as players. It is like they have won nothing.”
It is an attitude McCarthy is familiar with, one he believes was key to Cork’s hurling success under Donal O’Grady and John Allen in 2004 and 2005.
“I can really identify with the girls in terms of their mentality, the way they approach training and the way they look after themselves on and off the field. They are always wanting to grow and learn so they can play to their maximum potential on matchday. They are not afraid to ask questions. They don’t pretend to know it all. I think any player worth their salt if they really want to get the best out of themselves has to be open-minded to that. The girls are wise enough to know the past is history and that it’s all about next Sunday’s game.”
McCarthy is no stranger to All-Ireland final afternoons on Jones Road and played in five finals (four senior, one minor) at GAA HQ. He “can’t wait” to get back there.
“Croke Park is a special venue. I still feel so grateful to have been lucky enough to wear the Cork jersey many times there. I have many happy memories that I will never forget and will remain with me forever. Next Sunday will be so different on pitchside, but I am excited by this new challenge. I am absolutely delighted I joined the set-up.
“The balance just seems to be spot on in relation to the professional side of things and having fun. There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be this weekend than watching the girls playing on All-Ireland final day.”
He’s hoping there’ll be a significant Cork following too – last year’s attendance of 16,610 was the largest since 2010.
“It is disappointing the girls don’t get the same support as the men. I’d love to see the girls getting a full house up in Croke Park some day.
“If people came to see the way they train and prepare for matchday, they would have to be impressed.
“I can safely say that these girls on Sunday will give it absolutely everything on the field to be victorious. It is going to be a massive challenge and we need all the support we can get.”
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