Cork manager Counihan remains confident in advance of Dublin showdown

‘We haven’t put in a performance that we are capable of, but if we do I believe we can win.’

The last question for Conor Counihan is the only one that registers.

“We haven’t put in a performance that we are capable of, but if we do I believe we can win. Now is the time.”

So, s**t or bust?

“That’s the way it is.”


This is Counihan's ninth championship campaign as a member of the Cork football management. There were stints in the 1990s under Billy Morgan and Larry Tompkins, and again in 2003.

He was overlooked for the manager’s role in 2003 and 2007.

Then the Rebels revolted. When the hurlers and footballers finally agreed a ceasefire with the county board, Counihan was landed in the job he not so much coveted but certainly wanted.

Now he had to go and win them an All-Ireland. Kerry spoilt that dream in depressing fashion.

The last chance was in 2010 and it took the removal of Kerry by Down (a county who hold a similar Indian sign over the Kingdom in Croke Park as the latter do over Cork there) to open the road.

Dublin and Bernard Brogan was the main speed bump before Cork made seriously hard work of a Down side, inspired by AFL professional Marty Clarke, in September.

Neither county has been able to sustain that form since. Cork are at least close, and so, remarkably, is Counihan.

This is his sixth year at the helm. Mayo dethroned them in 2011. They won the league and Munster titles last year, crushing Kerry in the semi-final, before Donegal wrung them dry in last season’s All-Ireland semi-final.

Colm O’Neill and Paddy Kelly were key figures in that team. O’Neill is gone for the year, Kelly only creeping back to match fitness.

They were banished from Killarney in the Munster final, with many focusing on the Counihan dummy team. The plan backfired, painting a picture that Counihan didn’t know his best side.

Against Galway, the team he named during the week took the field. A double bluff then.

Hard work
Still, they malfunctioned again for long periods. But watch the game again. From 50 minutes onwards Cork owned the ball, pounding away, making very hard work of reeling in a three-point deficit.

They missed at least three goal chances too. It took the introduction of proven winners like Kelly, Paudie Kissane, Paul Kerrigan and, to a lesser extent, Donnacha O'Connor to turn the tide.

That and the refusal of Pearse O'Neill, Aidan Walsh and particularly Ciarán Sheehan to stop trying.

Counihan is asked whether there was method in it all, whether he was merely trying to finish the game with his strongest 15 on the field?

“There’s a danger in that too, it might be too late to get the whip out! “It’s a bit like a racehorse and trying to hold him, it could be too late.”

The progression of the All-Ireland-winning side has simply not happened on Counihan’s watch.

Only victory on Saturday night can begin to address that. Is there some new plan to counter the expected waves of young Dubs?

“We’ll play 14 behind the ball, something new! We’ll put [goalkeeper Alan] Quirke up front to confuse people!”

He laughs off most questions in this manner. It prompts us to repeat the utterances of Joe Brolly not too long ago; that Counihan is a sound man, just not so good a manager.

He bursts into laughter. Not even remotely concerned.

“And you want me to say what a nice fella Joe is and we’ll cut it at that!”

The suggestion that about 50,000 well-oiled Dubs and only a few hundred Corkonians will populate Saturday's crowd is mentioned.

White line
"There won't be any of them inside the white line, and I'm not trying to be smart about that. We've had to go there before and do that, everybody has to do it.

“If you’re worried about what’s happening outside the white line, you may as well stay at home.”

What of Jim Gavin moving away from the Pat Gilroy blueprint in Dublin and providing less protection for Ger Brennan and Rory O'Carroll?

“It certainly appears that way to date, but who’s to say what’ll happen on Sunday, will they come out with the same type of style? I don’t really know.”

Is it sustainable to keep playing the Dublin way and win an All-Ireland?

“It certainly is. If they can keep performing at the level that they are, that’s certainly something that they can achieve. But things don’t always work out that straightforward. You need a bit of luck and a bit of experience, you don’t win easy All-Irelands now.”

We give up and talk about Counihan’s favourite topic: this week’s horse racing in Ballybrit. He has none running.

But would your horse be down as number three on the card but wear number six?

“Aw, you can’t get away with it in that game, so you don’t!”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent