CORK captain Ian Maguire feels that the strength of the Rebels’ panel was shown to good effect in the Munster SFC semi-final win over Kerry and he expects it will have to demonstrated again in Sunday’s final against Tipperary.
Skipper Maguire was one of those called ashore in extra time against the Kingdom, replaced by Kevin O’Driscoll in the 77th minute after emptying himself for the cause. In fact, Ronan McCarthy’s team finished the game with only six of those who started it – Micheál Martin, Mattie Taylor, Ruairí Deane, Mark Collins and debutants Maurice Shanley and Seán Meehan.
That they managed to engineer a game-winning goal in such a scenario – the last three players to touch the ball were subs Damien Gore, Luke Connolly and match-winner Mark Keane – was proof of the quality Cork had on the bench.
‘I thought it was kind of funny going into the game,’ Maguire says, ‘obviously there was a bit of talk about Kerry and to be fair they deserved it, they're a very good team and they were talking about Kerry's bench is brilliant and stuff.
‘I got a couple of texts and lads were asking about, “Oh what about Seán White, Kevin O'Driscoll, Paul Kerrigan?”
‘A lot of people would have high regard for those players. Seán White was fantastic in championship last year. I suppose as a player when you're playing and then you look to the bench, when my number got called and I saw Kevin O'Driscoll running on, a highly experienced player who has played a lot of big games for Cork, it kind of shows that we've quietly built a very good squad over the last two years.
‘Players like Seán White, Paul Kerrigan, Luke Connolly, Kevin O'Driscoll, all coming on, just shows the quality that we have at the moment. We kind of know ourselves now that, the 15 starting the game, it's so important how you finish the game.
‘I suppose it was one of our weaknesses last year that kind of showed in the Super 8s was we struggled to finish out games. Whether that was substitutions or whether that was just conditioning, we struggled to finish games where in full-time and in extra time, we finished very strong and I suppose that's testament to the strength and conditioning. It's testament to the management but it's testament to the players on the pitch as well.’
After the Kerry game, Cork manager Ronan McCarthy was keen to make clear that he wouldn’t be entertaining the notion of players getting carried away and Maguire certainly believes that Cork can play better than they did. At the same time, having won such a game can only increase self-belief.
‘I think there's room for massive improvement in certain areas,’ he says.
‘Obviously, we knew it was a battle and it was a bit ugly to be fair. But what was said about this Cork team for years was, “Are they physically tough enough? Are they mentally tough enough?”
‘If you're ever going to win a game where you're mentally tough, then that was the one. But to go back to your question, we came away from that game thinking that defensively we did a lot of things well. Around the middle we did a lot of things well with breaks. But, offensively, we didn't hit our stride at all at any point.
‘Now, to be fair, our dead-ball execution was outstanding but we thought attacking-wise we didn't really hit the notes that we were hitting. After a game like that, we know that we can improve immensely in attack straight away, because it just wasn't a game where we got anything firing. Brian Hurley, who looks very sharp, just didn't get opportunities to get the ball one on one inside.
‘They're all areas for improvement. After winning a tight game like that...confidence is high in the camp as it is, but I think the competition that Ronan touched on earlier, the confidence that's in the camp, and the belief that's there that we feel like we're only going to improve again the next day against Tipperary.
‘But, again, like Tipp will be thinking the exact same thing after playing Limerick. That they didn't obviously play their greatest game but there are areas for improvement. They have beaten big teams before so we're in a very similar situation. I think after winning a tight game like that, after all the close calls in previous years, it's almost like there's a burden lifted in one sense as a player because I've obviously involved on bad days.’