‘We have to take our hats off to both sets of players’

O’Sullivan thrilled as Cork show real resilience to finally see off their great rivals

Diarmuid O’Sullivan and Cork manager Kieran Kingston  celebrate after the victory over Kilkenny at Croke Park.  Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Diarmuid O’Sullivan and Cork manager Kieran Kingston celebrate after the victory over Kilkenny at Croke Park. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

“How do we sum it up?” Diarmuid O’Sullivan puffed his cheeks as he repeated the question out loud.

Just a game with 71 scores, the most ever in a championship match. Just an All-Ireland semi-final in which Cork got caught with the latest of late goals in injury-time but answered with an extra-time spell which they won by 1-8 to 0-6. That’s all. Sum it up, Rock.

“An extraordinary game. I think we have to take our hats off to both sets of players there, just to go as hard as they did for as long as they did; I think it was a remarkable achievement. We now see the new level of athlete and player within the inter-county game. It’s getting better every year, the physicality, the exchanges – everything is just going up and up and I think today was further testament to that.”

He wasn’t inclined to take Tim O’Mahony by the ear for the mistake that led to the Kilkenny goal. The Cork style is to run the ball out of defence. It had worked for most of the 74 minutes up to then so O’Sullivan wasn’t going to chastise his wing-back for trying to keep doing it.

“That’s the way we play the game. We will accept mistakes. There’s no doubt because in the game we try to play there will be mistakes. We as a management team are quite willing to accept them, once they are happy to play the game they want to play. It’s their game, it’s not our game – mistakes happen.

“Tim put it to bed before he got to the dressing room, he came back out and he had an incredible 20 minutes after that. The mistake didn’t trouble him, it didn’t trouble our team so that was the important factor. Before, it might have but this team is different. There’s more resolve in it and we are quite pleased with where we have come.”

The Cork of the past decade, the eternally maligned Cork, the Cork who were never to be trusted when the tide turned against them – that Cork would have wilted in extra-time. This Cork is not that Cork. They brushed off Adrian Mullen’s killer equaliser and buried Kilkenny, skating further away the longer it went on.

“Yeah and it’s not something that we have done,” O’Sullivan pointed out.

“The lads have taken control of all of these little scenarios and all these little points that are important to win games. Yes, it was a sucker punch but once we got to the dressing room the players took control of the scenario and took control of the situation again.

“We’ve asked them to be different over the last 12 to 18 months, last year was an interruption obviously and we couldn’t get to where we wanted to get to last year. So we took the winter to prepare and talk about that resolve and our strength in depth and bits and pieces. So it’s down to what’s inside the dressing room, it’s that heart, that willingness and that want and any person who wants to climb Everest has to go through it.”

We put it to him that they’d be underdogs in the final. He gladly bit, harrumphing as he went.

“Underdogs? If you had to listen to the television and everything written and said today lads, Limerick’s name is already etched on the cup. Where do we go from there? They’re the greatest team that have played the game over the last number of years. So we’ll come up and see who we get on and we’ll throw what we can at them.”

For Brian Cody, it was a second year in a row of watching his Kilkenny team falling at the penultimate hurdle. Kilkenny were outrun, outpaced and outstayed for much of the contest but they still managed to Kilkenny their way to a draw in normal time.

“Well I’d be very, very disappointed if it was ever any other way,” Cody said. “That’s what real sports people do and that’s what our dressing-room is full of.

“They kept at it, they kept going, they fought until the bitter end. Sport is sport, somebody always wins and somebody always loses. But you can lose badly or you can lose with a bit of respect and a bit of honour, and our lads did that today.”

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