WHEN NORMAL TIME ended in July’s epic All-Ireland semi-final between Cork and Limerick, Daniel Kearney was lying in the dressing-room in Croke Park.
He had limped off in the 60th minute yet was nudged back into the action as extra-time resumed. By the 85th minute Kearney had to accept his afternoon was done, succumbing to injury once more.
His enforced withdrawal was presented as a factor that contributed to Cork making their 2018 exit that day. At the time in the heat of championship, the decision to answer the call to return to action was a straightforward one to make.
Almost two months on, a sense of clarity has set in when he reflects on that battle between his head and heart.
“It was actually cramp in my calves and I was probably mentally checked out. For the last 10 minutes I was in the dressing-room, just lying down in the shower. It’s too hard to watch it, I wouldn’t really watch the games coming off.
“To hear then it was a draw, (in) your mind there’s a lot going on. Extra-time can be a tough mental (challenge) to prepare for because you’re unwinding towards the end of the game and mentally and physically I was probably not in the best shape going into extra-time.
“I tried to give it everything but it just wasn’t enough. I suppose I probably I should have put my hand up and said I’m not able to come back on, you’ve to bring someone else back on. But it’s very hard when they’re asking you in an All-Ireland semi-final to come back on, to say no. There definitely is a learning in that for me.”
Daniel Kearney in action for Cork against Limerick.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
The desire to introduce Kearney again was rooted in the player’s excellent form in that game. His display was part of a pattern that had developed over the course of the championship.
After being on the periphery in 2017 and restricted largely to the bench as Bill Cooper and Darragh Fitzgibbon formed a strong midfield partnership for Cork, the 28-year-old reinvented himself this year.
He nailed down a berth at wing-forward, his all-action style and a licence to roam around the pitch paying a rich dividend for Cork as he made a major impact in their progress.
“I’ve kind of had up and down years since I started with Cork in 2012. For 2014, 2015, 2016, I felt my form was good enough but I just wasn’t kind of able to get a consistency in the team.
“Then last year I picked up an injury and Darragh (Fitzgibbon) came in. You know it lead to finding Darragh Fitzgibbon, (who) turned out to be one of the best players in Ireland. Where I lost out through injury, it gave Darragh a chance to prove how good he was and that was great.
“But thankfully I’ve been able to get back into the team now this year in a different position. I tried to make my own of it and it went well. I thought I did myself justice to my ability and I was happy with that.”
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A striking feature of Kearney’s play was his his scoring input. He wasn’t renowned for weighing in with points from midfield but picked in attack he was aware that he needed to add that skill to his game.
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Scoreless against Clare in Cork’s Munster opener, the points arrived rapidly thereafter and by the end of the campaign, Kearney had struck 0-13 from play in five matches. Three of those arrived in that Limerick game as he caused the eventual All-Ireland champions plenty of problems.
“John (Meyler) kind of threw me in, in a challenge game against Offaly and I just brought as much energy and my skillset to the role as I could and make it my own. It just seemed to work with the lads playing around me. I used a light hurley (before) because I was never really shooting when I was midfield. We played Clare and I’d two shots and both went 20 yards short. I said if I’m forward, I have to change something because this isn’t good enough.
“So I just got a heavier hurley. Then against Tipperary the next day I got four points. My brother was giving out to me that it was too light. So I just used my brother’s hurley for the Tipperary game and it just worked and haven’t looked back.
“The balance between the hurleys is critical. If you’ve a heavier hurley, then you’re slower on the ground and you’re slower to get the ball. So it’s just getting that balance right between being quick on the ball on the ground and then having a heavy enough hurley that you can actually shoot the ball on the run or on the backfoot.
“Thankfully I made that adjustment in my game earlier on because I could have easily stuck with the lighter hurley and had bad wides or poor balls. It’s just those little details make a big difference.”
If his personal stock rose throughout the season, Cork’s All-Ireland aspirations ended at a familiar hurdle. Yet for Kearney there have been bigger disappointments than August’s loss to Limerick.
“I think definitely not turning up is much more disappointing and you’ve a much bigger sense of regret. At least you know if you’ve showed up, you can take a lot from that. The Tipp one (in 2014) definitely, just because we didn’t show up.
“Against Limerick, who are a great team and they threw everything at us and we threw everything at them, I thought we were as good as them coming up to the 60 minutes.
“People said it was the subs that came on cost us the game against Limerick, I think it was just more that we just sat off them and maybe tried to protect the six-point lead and drew them on us. I think there’s too much emphasis on the subs that we didn’t have enough depth, it was more that we just as a team sat off them.”
Daniel Kearney celebrates Cork’s Munster final victory over Clare.
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
He’s enthused about the prospect of next season. Cork head to Boston next month for the Fenway Hurling Classic and with underage teams having contested All-Ireland finals of late, their range of playing options should expand for 2019.
“Luckily we’ve a good age profile in our squad. I don’t think there’ll be any retirements coming into next year. I don’t think we need to change too much. I think we need to do more or the same and keep that level up.
“There is a good crop of younger fellas there, it’s just to find a few that are up to the senior standard. I think we’re in a good position.
“Now there’s a lot of sacrifices go into it and a wicked amount of training and stuff just to stay there. As you get older you being to realise that these years aren’t going to be here forever and you being to really appreciate the moments more.”
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