We’re about to start the interview in the Rochestown Park Hotel when a woman comes up with her nephew.
‘Hi Ken, I couldn’t pass you without introducing this fella to you or he’d kill me.’ He smiles. Talks with the young lad for a minute. Wishes them well and sits down.
It’s the build up that kills players. O’Halloran says he’s used of it now but that doesn’t mean he likes it. Cork had a 10-week wait between their last league game against Dublin and first championship outing at Páirc Uí Chaoimh against Tipperary. That was tough. But these final days leading up to the Kerry game are the hardest.
“I don’t think many players enjoy the build up to games,” he said.
“You learn quickly when you’re playing in front of a big crowd that once it starts it’s the same game you’ve played since you were eight years old. You just play the game. Once it starts you can enjoy it. There’s no better feeling than sitting in a dressing room having played well. You can go home and be proud of yourself. They’re the moments you play for.
“[But] it’s the nervous energy waiting for the game. You can get bored very easily and be anxious around the house. You learn to deal with it better. It’s part of it. It’s conquering a fear. When you’re nervous going into a game but you play well it’s like you’ve conquered a fear. It’s a good feeling. It can be character-building because you’ve gone out and delivered a performance in a high-pressurised environment.”
Or even if you haven’t and you’ve to deal with it?
“Exactly. That’s all part of it. There’s a lot setbacks and blows along the way when you play sport that people don’t realise. When you come home from training and you haven’t played well, you’re down in the dumps the next day. Then you play well the next day and you’re living from session to session. It can be draining.”
That experience is key in the countdown to Sunday. Whereas when he was 18 or 19 he’d worry about every small thing, now, with age, he has learned to mellow. Now he knows when people come up talking to him about the game he’s got to embrace part of that goodwill.
“It’s the first thing they want to talk to you about. But you have to block it out as much as you can without getting too caught up with blocking it out.
“Anyone you meet in Cork there seems to be a good buzz about the place. Two Munster finals in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the marquee on, the weather being nice. You saw the way Fota Island went with the big crowds for the Irish Open. Sometimes when people get behind something it can really take off.”
To get to that stage though, you must first experience it. That’s why they don’t really talk about those coping strategies in the Cork dressing room. By the time they’ve reached the senior squad, each man has his own way of dealing with the days leading up to big games.
“With your club maybe but fellas here have played in All-Ireland finals, Sigerson finals, county finals with their clubs. People have dealt with it before. You don’t want to interfere with their routines. It’s none of your business. You don’t see them anyway. You only see them at training.”
He knows what to expect. Four years on an inter-county panel gives you that and he’ll need it in the last few days before this game. The fact it is looking like the last Munster SFC final before the Páirc Uí Chaoimh redevelopment has added another pressure point to an already tense atmosphere.
It’s the first of a potential senior double. Kerry. Rivalry. All pressure points.
To deliver he must cover all the bases. His position has changed so much in the past few years. He’s now the quarterback, dictating play.
“You’ve a lot more sweeping to do now and [must] be able to spray the ball from hand and from the ground. It’s a highly-pressurised position and a highly-rewarding one too when you get it right. It’s arguably the most important position on the pitch.
“Experience is the main thing. Once you’ve come through big days and played well, caught a high ball under pressure or made a big save, or nailed a good kick-out. You go back to those moments and use them as a reward.”
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