For a measure of how a player is valued, very often you need look no further than his club. When he was barely out of his teens, Na Piarsaigh trusted Christopher Joyce with the most pivotal and responsible position on the field, centre-back.
Flanking Chris? A couple of fellas you might have heard of: John Gardiner and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, either of whom could have been shifted to the middle. Na Piarsaigh however had faith in the strapping youngster in their midst.
“Yeah, well Sean Óg and John,” he grins.
“Look, it was a great experience growing up and seeing them play. It was a help, they gave me a few words along the way, guided me in the right direction and no better men to give it to you.”
Centre-back was also the position he manned for Cork U21s and though Cork didn’t win even a Munster title during his years with them, Joyce was a standout performer. Wing-back though is where he plies his trade these days with the Cork senior team. He did start in the corner against Clare in the semi-final win, a man-marking assignment on danger man Tony Kelly. Result? The 2013 hurler of the year and young hurler of the year held to just a single point.
That game, plus the quarter-final replay win over Waterford, was when this new-look Cork defence started to come of age. The wide avenue to goal that proved fatal in 2013 was closed off.
“It’s about stopping the ball from source. We need to be stopping them out there, that includes the forwards and the midfielders working hard there to cut that out as well,” he said.
“They shouldn’t be walking through the backs. Defensively we have to try and cut out goals as much as possible all season, so it was just about keeping tight in the defence, helping each other out, working hard. Even when you don’t have the ball you need to be working hard to get in the right position to support your teammate. It’s just all about hard work, giving 100% for the 70 minutes.”
In that sense, the two new boys in the defence, Mark Ellis (centre-back) and Damien Cahalane (full-back against Waterford, on the wing against Clare) have had a major impact.
“They’ve been fantastic. They’re big, huge, strong, physical men. You’re not going to get an easy run down the centre there like. If you take a hit off one of them lads, you’ll know all about it. They’ve really benefited the team this year.”
Will it be enough though to turn over Limerick in Páirc Uí Chaoimh tomorrow, enough to take their crown?
Remember how Cork looked in pole position coming up to half-time in last year’s final in the Gaelic Grounds, until Patrick Horgan’s red card? Added motivation surely to reverse that result, and certainly the bookies seem to think so, Cork odds-on favourites?
Not a bit of it, says Joyce.
“Well look, it was the same last year, ‘Cork are going to win, Cork are going to win’ but Limerick were a much better team than us last year. People say Patrick Horgan was sent off but if Patrick Horgan played the whole game, we would not have won that game that day. Limerick’s intensity was outstanding. They’re a fantastic team.
“People were saying, ‘It was a one-year thing’. This year they went to Thurles and beat the red-hot favourites, Tipp.
“That Limerick team have absolutely no fear of playing any team and that’s a fact, so they won’t fear coming to Cork to play us. I don’t think we need motivation.
“They’re Munster champions, they’re coming to Cork, it’s a Munster final. That’s motivation enough, a great chance for us. They beat us last year, were much better than us. This year now we need to show how much we’ve improved, which I think we have. If we do show that, we will be Munster champions, hopefully.”
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