Returning Cork captain relishes Kerry challenge

Cronin leads Rebels in provincial Under-21 decider eight months after breaking leg

Cork’s Stephen Cronin tackles  Kerry’s Barry John Keane in last year’s Munster football final. He subsequently broke his leg while playing for his club Nemo Rangers. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Cork’s Stephen Cronin tackles Kerry’s Barry John Keane in last year’s Munster football final. He subsequently broke his leg while playing for his club Nemo Rangers. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 
Stephen CroninMunster

Just eight months ago Cronin broke his leg while playing for his club, Nemo Rangers, and everything since has been about getting back to full fitness to help Cork regain the title they surrendered to Tipperary last year. This evening in Tralee they meet a Kerry team every bit as intent on winning that title, after a virtual famine of eight years.

“I knew I would be cutting it close,” says Cronin. “Back in December, I was told I wouldn’t be jogging until the end of March. I kind of thought that I was going to be gone. Seán Hayes [the Cork manager] basically asked me would I be captain, that ‘we trust that you’ll be there’. They’ve put a lot of belief in me. I didn’t know if I’d be back at all to play.

Be ready

National League

The goal now is to beat Kerry, although there’s no disguising that Kerry want this win as well. At senior level, Kerry now hold the bragging rights, moving comfortably into the league semi-finals after beating Cork in Tralee last Sunday, while sealing the relegation to Division Two of their closest rivals.

At under-21 level, however, Cork have held the upper hand, this being their fifth final in as many years; Kerry’s quarter-final win over Tipperary last month was their first under-21 victory in four years, since winning the 2012 Munster semi-final against Waterford (they lost that final to Cork after extra time, when current senior manager Eamon Fitzmaurice was in charge).

Kerry are now managed by former senior manager Jack O’Connor, and Cronin accepts they’ll present a far different challenge Clare and Waterford in previous rounds. “Realistically Kerry are in a different class. I think they have 10 starters that have All-Ireland minor medals, some of them have two. We know how good they are.”

Cronin credits Colm O’Neill (who suffered three cruciate injuries) and senior team- mate Eoin Cadogan for helping him on the lonely road of recovery.

“From November and December, it’s all gym sessions. You’d be in your own part of the gym doing your own thing . . . I was the only fella doing physio work, doing rehab work. It is quite lonesome but the phonecalls and texts from Colm and Eoin, just making sure how you’re getting on, that’s a massive thing.”

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