Cork are currently stuck in detention in the school of hard knocks, but Seán Óg Ó hAilpín reckons it could be a lot worse.
Almost three weeks since their 14-point league final defeat by Kilkenny, the wounds are still being licked after what Ó hAilpín describes as “a reality check”.
He’s under no illusions it has set Cork back but he gleans a few positives.
“If someone had told us in Rochestown Park when we all met back in November that we’d be competing in the league final I would have laughed at that because, basically, we were getting hammered by double digits in the last couple of years.
“Okay, no one wants to be hammered in the league final, and we were badly beaten, but it’s probably a small bit different this year because we’re trying to build blocks this year.”
He added: “Let’s put it this way, a league final defeat like that back in 2005 and ’06 when the team was mature would have taken an awful lot of nattering to the ego.”
There’s still a fair bit of aching, but Ó hAilpín knows Cork will be judged more on the championship, starting with the Munster semi-final on June 24.
“Not many people down home would like me saying it, but the league is a means to an end. The championship is the main one.
“I can name you Cork winning championship teams, but I could barely name you the league titles they’ve won
“I think that’s not alone in Cork, but that’s everywhere. The 24th is D-day. It opens up our season or we go a different route that we probably don’t want to go down.”
He realises the intensity shown by Cork in Thurles was nothing close to that shown in the round win over Kilkenny in April. He can see merit in Daithi Regan’s point that they might have to lose an All-Ireland final before winning one.
“I can see where he is coming from totally with that statement — that’s what happened in 2003, we lost that and came back and won 2004. Ideally, if you get to a final I’d rather win it first up, that’s the nature of everyone. I hope the All-Ireland final he was on about was the league final.
“I see what he means, basically a developing side like this, all I can do is compare with my own playing days.
“In 1999 when we won that didn’t happen overnight. We took hammerings from Limerick initially (1996) and then Clare (’98). You would be coming home as a young 20-year-old and saying ‘Oh, man’.
“You were growing up to believe you would be winning All-Irelands every two or three years in a Cork jersey. It happened in 1999 but there were a few harsh days.”
Personally speaking, Ó hAilpín admits he’s finding the going tough — “the mind wants to go places but the body is not bringing you there at times”.
But he’ll be doing his damnedest to earn a first team pick for the semi-final against Limerick or Tipperary on June 24.
Interestingly, he reckons Jimmy Barry-Murphy was only one of three men who would have recalled him to the panel, the others being Donal O’Grady and John Allen.
“I don’t think there were any other guys, had they gotten the job, that would have gone the route of going into the past.”
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