CONOR COUNIHAN believes Cork are in a good position heading into his sixth consecutive All-Ireland football quarter-final against Kildare at Croke Park on Sunday, throw-in, 2pm.
And while the Leinster side may have momentum after playing qualifiers in the past three weeks, the Cork boss reckons all the right boxes have been ticked even though they’ve played just two championship games to-date.
“First and foremost everybody is available for selection and that includes Eoin Cadogan, who had a chest infection over the weekend, but he’ll be fine.
“Secondly, we’ve had a good three weeks together. Hopefully, we’re very fresh, which would be a big positive from our point of view.
“And thirdly, players are more mature now. Maturity and experience are big things for the players,” Counihan said.
Cork have an 80 per cent record at this phase of the race for Sam, winning four times and losing just once, the latter a 1-13 to 2-6 setback to Mayo 12 months ago.
That surprise defeat, though, must be placed in context given the high level of injuries, including star forwards Daniel Goulding and Ciaran Sheehan, when Cork were also the defending champions.
The obvious question is whether Cork have learned the lessons. “We’ll know on Sunday. If we win, we did, but if we don’t we obviously haven’t.
“Last year three or four lads were out injured in a short space of time and we had no opportunity to re-jig.
“Coming on the back of an All-Ireland success it was different, but, I believe we are in a much better place now.
“I know that if we perform to the best of our ability we can win.
“The biggest example we’ve seen this year of not being on top of your game was Kilkenny in the hurling.
“If you’re not tuned in and you’re not right, then it’s show over time.”
Counihan is placing a major emphasis on Cork starting well, knowing Kildare will hit the ground running.
“It’s about getting to the pace of the game from the word go and that’s one of the big challenges.
“Another facing us is whether we’ve been tested enough, but at this time of the year it’s all about getting across the line and you learn all about that the more you play.
“We’ve taken care of business up to now, but you could say the real business only starts now.
“There’s no more shadow boxing at this stage. It’s winner take all and this is where you really find out about yourself.
“That’s the same for everyone left in the last eight.
“We’ve played a lot of good football in Croke Park in the past and hopefully we can produce that on Sunday.”
Kildare have a dismal quarter-final record, winning just once in four attempts on the spin, a 2-17 to 1-12 victory over Meath in 2010, before Down pipped them by two points in the semis.
Counihan has watched them carefully this season and knows what to expect.
“We believe they’re turning the corner. Okay they’ll have been disappointed with the Meath result in Leinster, but since then they’ve beaten Cavan and Sligo comprehensively and had a tough game against a Limerick side, who played exceptionally well on the night.
“Kildare would consider themselves very unlucky in the past few years, when certain decisions didn’t go their way and probably believe this is their year.”
“Both teams are fairly attack focused, so it should be a good, open game of football,” Counihan concluded.
Cork trained last night and will name their team after tomorrow’s session with all eyes focused on the composition of the attack given the number of players challenging for starting positions.
Meanwhile, midfielder Alan O’Connor believes all Cork can do is look after their own performance on Sunday against Kildare.
Since their Munster final win over Clare 35 other football games have passed our bows.
So, too, have the entire 3,496.9km of the Tour de France and Wimbledon.
Even the county hurlers have ran out four times since.
“All we can do is focus on
ourselves,” said midfielder Alan O’Connor.
“Every training session we try to push each other as hard as we can.
“There is not much you can do until you know what sort of opposition you will be playing against.
“There is no love lost out on the training field or in challenge matches amongst ourselves.
“You can shake a guy’s hand coming off the field after some incident, it’s all about getting guys into the mind-frame of playing in the championship.”
Which is easier said than done.
It is an irritating peculiarity of the championship that one of the best teams in the country should find itself parked in a lay-by for the
majority of the summer.
O’Connor admits as much. So do most of the GAA’s highest ranking officials who admit that the current system is the best we have rather than best we could have but there are, admittedly, two ways of looking at Cork’s inactivity.
This is the old argument of freshness versus momentum and the fact is that teams like Kildare are playing at a level unknown to previous generations.
Sooner or later, that must take a toll.
“The games are a lot more physical now than I’d say they were before,” said O’Connor.
“The intensity is gone up three or four notches the last few years.”