EAMONN CORCORAN could have sidestepped the question, but that wouldn’t be his style.
“Are we mentioning 2001 again?”, he asked, inferring that it was a bit tiresome to be constantly reminded that he was one of the remaining links with Tipperary’s last All-Ireland winning team.
Corcoran came into the senior squad in 1997 when Len Gaynor was manager, two years later he made his championship debut and in another two years he had his All-Ireland medal in his back pocket. “You expect it to happen (again) the following year, or the year after that. I remember Declan Ryan and Johnny Leahy saying that after 1991 they thought it was automatically going to happen the year after. But, it took 10 years before it happened,” he said.
His own view is that they slipped down in the rankings because Cork and Kilkenny “raised the bar” and they didn’t go with them. And a ‘lack of belief” often held them back in games against Cork.
Recalling the 2005 final — at Páirc Ui Chaoimh — he says that while there wasn’t much between the teams at the finish (five points), the match was nearly over at half-time.
“They hammered us in the first half. Last year, I know it didn’t feel like a championship match (their meeting in the qualifiers) but it was important that we won to get belief that we have the capability to beat them. I think it was a huge thing.’’
While it’s too early to pass judgement on the current team, Corcoran feels that the combination of their league success and the progress of the younger players justifies optimism.
“When you are winning, lads seem to up their game. This year a lot of the young lads have come through from successful teams at minor and U21. They are bringing a great buzz and an air of confidence around the place.”
Corcoran feared he had reached the end of the road after the 2005 final — “I was roasted,” — following which he got a lot of criticism.
“I suppose at that time I did say ‘am I finished?’ ‘But now I’m enjoying my hurling, probably more so than ever, and I’ve been around long enough that if you have a bad game you put it behind you and you are ready for the next game.
“It’s important that your mental attitude is right and I know myself from out pucking if I feel my touch is right. On any given day you could go left and the ball could go right. These things happen. As a young lad you go and play a bad game and it’s never mentioned. But the older you get people start to say ‘he’s finished, he’s on his last legs’, but, I don’t mind.”
He wants to put the past season behind him, describing it as a strange year. On the one hand, he enjoyed the three-game saga with Limerick, but other than the win over Cork, he didn’t find the qualifiers games very fulfilling.
“You probably didn’t even feel you were playing championship matches,” he says. Then, thinking they had things right after beating Cork, they left themselves down against Wexford.
“It’s grand to perform on a Saturday night in Semple Stadium, but if you don’t perform in Croke Park. That’s where All-Irelands are won.”
And, a big performance is what will be needed: “Cork are going to be champing at the bit waiting for us and we have yet to go down there and win a game.
“It’s a huge challenge for us, hopefully we are ready for it.”
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