With the team having qualified for this Sunday’s league final against Kilkenny, most of the talk about the rise of Cork hurling has centred around the youngsters.
But, says former star and current selector Seanie McGrath, the elder statesmen — many of whom he would have played with during his own career — have been just as crucial.
“The major eye-opener for me since I got involved with Jimmy [Barry-Murphy, manager] is the amount of individual preparation that goes in now, the amount of work guys do on their own outside of the training field — the dedication is just incredible to be honest.
“I think that’s why the experienced fellas are so important for us. Everyone is talking about the younger guys, how good they are, the breath of fresh air they bring, but we’d be nowhere without the older guys.
“They’re the ones leading the younger guys on, holding them by the hand if you like, speaking to them during training, telling them what they’re doing wrong, bringing them along.
“When we do individual training we break up into groups of six or seven but you’ll always ensure there’s an experienced guy in there so that the likes of Conor Lehane, Darren Sweetnam, Luke O’Farrell and Jamie Coughlan all have an experienced head with them to bring through the mill.
“For us, those guys are every bit as important and while all the talk is about the younger guys, we know within the camp the experienced guys have made a huge contribution.”
This new Cork management team has done a very good job so far of blending those two together, the likes of Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and John Gardiner setting the example for the young, the young energising the experienced.
Too good a job perhaps. Are expectations now building to fever pitch in the Rebel county?
“I don’t think we’d have it any other way, to be honest. I think expectation always goes with Cork hurling; whether Cork are in the doldrums or up there competing with the best, there’s always expectation.
“For us to be where we are, in a league final, we wouldn’t swap that for anything. Expectations are outside our control, it’s to do with external influences, the media and so on. Once we go to training and we’re within the camp, we just focus on improving players, their physical conditioning, their skill-set — we can’t really improve them mentally, it’s up to themselves to play in these games and perform, it’s up to the new lads to go out on championship day and make sure they’re mentally strong enough to cope. For us it’s still great that we’re making progress, great to be in a league final, and if that brings expectation with it then so be it.”
Those expectations built up during an impressive league run for Cork. Good to reach the final, but it would be some feat to win, wouldn’t it?
“It would, we just want to win the game,” said McGrath. “Every game we play we look for a performance and if we win as well that’s a bonus, but if we put in a good performance and lose, that’s still a plus for us.
“We go back afterwards and examine the video, look at the different stats in the game — hooks, blocks, puckouts won, puckouts lost; if we can see all those stats improving in this game, going in the right direction, we’ll take huge positives from that.
“If we get a win on top of that it’s another major plus but it’s all about getting a performance.”
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