BRIAN Hurley is ready to take out his frustrations on Nemo Rangers this Sunday.
The man who tormented Nemo in the 2013 Cork SFC final – he scored 0-12 in a man-of-the-match performance – is keen to inflict more heartbreak on the city men, as he works hard to finish the season on a high.
He might be in his fourth county senior final in five years, but Hurley admits that his form hasn’t been good enough this season for a footballer of his ability, especially on the inter-county scene with Cork.
Scoring 0-2 in four championship games, being held scoreless in the Munster final draw and replay, before being benched for that dreadful All-Ireland round four qualifier loss to Kildare, the 2014 All-Star football nominee endured a forgettable summer.
Still, he is averaging 1-6 per game in Castlehaven’s championship run, and is, by some distance, the team’s top scorer. Concentrating fully on Castlehaven these months, Hurley is ready to fire his club to another county title.
Kieran McCarthy (KMC): Okay, no holds barred here, it’s been a difficult season for you, Brian, more so on the inter-county front?
Brian Hurley (BH): ‘This year didn’t go well for me. I saw it last year that I wasn’t getting much freedom. This year it didn’t work out for me. I was disappointed with my personal performances this year, especially in the two finals and the Kildare game as well.
‘It’s the way you play as a player too; sometimes you get sucked out of a game. A lot of it does come down to the supply of ball, but there’s an onus on me to make myself available too. It certainly wasn’t anywhere near where I think I can get at with Cork. It was very disappointing. Hopefully when the new manager comes in, I can get the nod and put last year behind me. I’m looking to the future.’
KMC: Think back to the 2013 county final against Nemo when you kicked 0-12, and while here in Cork you were well known in club football, that performance – and your scoring in that campaign – announced you to the rest of the GAA world, so your secret is out. Life as a marked man can’t be easy?
BH: ‘The way the game has gone it’s getting harder and harder for forwards to find room. So much of it depends on the supply of ball you get. If you have good ball players outside you, they’ll find you no matter where you are. That’s the key to breaking down a blanket defence. We’ve good guys here in Castlehaven who can deliver ball in. We know each other inside out; that helps.’
KMC: Is there any particular reason that this year didn’t work out for you on the Cork front? Maybe the tactics didn’t suit your style?
BH: ‘I’m not a cocky person, and I wouldn’t like to be known as one. If my team wins and I don’t score, then I’m happy.
‘The first day against Kerry I didn’t score and I was damn glad of our performance that day. But I was fairly pissed off after because we should have won the game. The second day, I didn’t play well again. It’s hard and it’s frustrating because you know you’re better than what you’re playing. The less said about that Kildare game the better.
‘My performances all season weren’t where they should have been at. I don’t know why. I can’t put my finger on it. Was it me? Was it the tactics we used? Did I try too much? Did I not try hard enough? You’d have all this going on in your mind and it was a struggle at times, but I’m back with my club now, enjoying my football and I think I’m getting to the level where I want to be at. Hopefully, the full peak will come this Sunday.’
KMC: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
BH: ‘It’s character building. No matter the sport, every player goes through highs and lows in their career, but you have to get back on the horse and drive on. It’s a good place to be in right now, in a county final, playing football in October, and I think my game is moving in the right direction.
‘We had a very bad year with Cork when you consider the level where Cork football should be at. That’s down to us as players. We’re the people on the pitch who make the decisions. But at the moment I’m only thinking about Castlehaven, and how we can improve as a team and how we can win on Sunday.
‘My hope is that this club can push on over the next four, five, six years and keep competing for the big prizes. We want to be fighting for county championships every year.’
KMC: Returning to your roots, so to speak, must have been a welcome relief after the year that was for Cork?
BH: ‘I don’t like being away from club training so it was good to get back in with the lads. There’s such a high standard of football in this club, and when fellas are trying to take chunks out of you, that helps too. It keeps you grounded.
‘I remember coming back in the Tuesday night after (the loss to Kildare) and I was breathing heavy. The lads were flaking me and I was wondering where I was, but the standard of football is high here, and that’s standing to us now.’
KMC: So, Nemo might feel the full brunt of Brian Hurley this Sunday? Do you feel you have a point to prove again?
BH: ‘You have to prove yourself every day you are out there. But this is certainly not a one-man team. There are 14 other fellas on the team, and all the lads pushing for places.
‘I remember against Skibbereen in the semi-final Sean Dineen bursting a gut to get a turnover and he did that a few times. Mark Collins worked hard to get his deliveries in, and Damo has been underrated this season – he is one of the best footballers in the country, not to mind the county. He marked Pa Kelly and Kevin Davis well in the last two games.
‘People underestimate the rest of our team. Chris Hayes is underrated. So too is John O’Regan. Seanie Cahalane, Shane Nolan, Dave Limrick, these are the wheels on our car, these are the boys getting us over the line.
‘People always go on about me, Mark and Damien, but there are 12 others who start besides us. Paudie Hurley can come up and kick frees, Stephen (Hurley) has kicked great scores this season, Tomas (O’Leary) and Roland (Whelton) have been rocks, the lads who come on have done well for us. There’s more to this team than just its Cork players.’
KMC: No doubt Castlehaven will need every player to stand up and be counted against Nemo this Sunday?
BH: ‘You never get anything easy off Nemo. We need to adapt as the game progresses, see what’s happening and make our decisions off that. We are big enough, old enough and mature enough to react to what’s going on out on the field. We are almost related to the big occasion at this stage. We need to adapt to how the game pans out.
‘They say you are as good as your last game, and Nemo were very good against Ross. They have talented forwards who have won county titles, Munsters and All-Irelands. They are a mature side that is well organised. Our backs will need to be their toes. Hopefully if they can keep them out then we can do the business at the other end. But this one will go right down to the wire.’
KMC: Castlehaven’s big match experience surely counts for something?
BH: ‘We are half married to the big occasions. This is our fourth county final in five years. You could see out reaction after the Skibb game, there was no jumping around, no circus, we had a job to do, we did it, and it will be the same on Sunday. It’s a game we want to win. But as a team we need to improve and take our game to the next level. Is it in us? Ya, it is. We want to win this final as much as the first one we were in.’