FORMER All-Star centre-back Ronan Curran has watched Cork’s progress in this year’s championship with immense interest and has been very impressed with the Rebels to date.
With exceptional reading of the game and an iron claw to pluck ball from the air, Curran was three times on the hurling team of the year, and excelled in four All-Ireland finals. However he called it a day after last year’s campaign, though commitments to dual club St Finbarr’s and preparations for his wedding on November 16 are ensuring that he is not idle.
The sales manager for Mycro Sportsgear in Ballincollig does admit though it’s hard not to miss the big games.
“I do, I miss the big games, the Tipp game and the Waterford game for example, I’d love to have been out there for both those games. The atmosphere in the Páirc for a Tipp game is unbeatable.
“It’s hard to watch them but as regards the training, we are very busy with the Barrs so I wouldn’t notice that element as much.”
Curran is finding though that the success of both Cork teams is having a negative effect on the club scene.
“It’s a disaster, it’s very hard to know how to train first and then have to train the whole way through the summer without a game to focus on. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to do it, I always knew there was a problem there but I didn’t know how bad it was until now.
“I think the worst thing is not knowing when the games are going to be on. If we were told they weren’t going to be on until September it would be grand, but the fact that you don’t know and have to keep training on the chance that Cork get knocked out makes it a little stale.”
Lining out in hurling and football for the Blues makes it’s more complicated again.
“It’s tough from a dual club point of view too, because you are trying to fit games in on both sides to keep things fresh but it is great to be back around the club everyday.
“It has to be hard for managers too because you know your players at the start of the year and then you come around to the league and you are missing your two or three inter-county players for weeks on end.
“That’s why you see in the league different teams getting big results against opposition that you would expect to be winning those games.
“This year in the Barrs we tried to work it so that we organised all our league games close together to have all our players available and it gave us a good insight in to what we needed to work on during the break. ”
Though Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s young side are rank outsiders of the four teams left in the race for Liam McCarthy, Curran believes every team that is left is in with a chance — and for Cork they need to recapture their form against Tipp.
“The Tipp game was very good, I expected that though with the calibre of players in both teams. You’ll rarely get a poor Cork-Tipp game, the rivalry sets the tone from the throw-in.
“I thought the forwards looked very dangerous, especially the full-forward line, a consistent supply and they will rack up scores.
“I think there’s a few problems there obviously, mainly around communication in the back-line but trust comes with familiarity. You’d expect there to be teething problems initially when a new defence is building but they will be ironed out with every game that is played.”
Curran feels critics need to be more realistic with their expectation of the defence, given the movement and quality of forward lines in the modern game.
“It’s very hard to keep a forward line out of the game for 70 minutes with all the rotation and movement that goes with it, you have to be realistic.
“It comes down to a judgement call in a game and you can’t combat for a play developing in a certain way, I think people expect too much to be honest.”
With communication in mind, talk turns to the responsibility of marking Galway’s Joe Canning and Curran is adamant it will have to be a team effort.
“It will be very hard to contain him, especially this year, he looks a lot stronger, fitter and aggressive. He is a great player but the main thing about marking Joe is that no player can do it on his own. If you are going to try and go man to man with Joe then you will lose.
“You have to defend as a unit and bring players back to soak up the pressure.”
Curran cites Seán Óg’s performance against Waterford as one of the keys to the Rebel victory.
“I thought Seán Óg was immense the last day, when the game was in the melting pot he stood up as he has done right down through the years. His closing 20 minutes were superb.
“I thought Daniel Kearney was excellent also and carried an amount of ball during that opening 20 minutes. Equally when Darren Sweetnam came in I thought he broke the line very well to get through for scores. He seems like a well-rounded athlete and a good hurler to go with it so they definitely have options.
“Jimmy did it in 1999 when he started Mark Landers and Mickey O’Connell in most of the games and finished them with Derek Barrett and Pat Ryan.
“Jimmy has worked that strategy previously and it bore the fruit so he will definitely be comfortable mixing it up again like he did against Waterford. There’s a lot of energy goes in to playing midfield if you are going to be effective for both your defence and attack, so it’s definitely a good ploy if you have the numbers to work with.”
Curran disagrees with the general consensus that the return and performance of half-forward line against Waterford is a real cause for concern.
“Cian McCarthy got three points and Jamie Coughlan got 1-1! I think Waterford are extremely strong in the half-back line and Niall McCarthy was isolated while the other forwards were targeted to pick off scores.
“He gives you a puck-out option which is invaluable, he had a fantastic season with his club in 2011 and I think he will be a vital cog the next day against Galway.”
Aside from the concern surrounding Joe Canning, Galway have a formidable attack and Curran feels Cork will have to read the game as it progresses in the manner they did against Waterford.
“I think the last day the Cork management wanted the half-back line to sit back and protect the full-back line. John Mullane might have been loose out around the middle, but that would have been because the emphasis was on stemming the supply to stop goal chances.
“There’s two ways to play in the half-back line, drop back, play the loose ball and stop the supply to goal or go man for man. I think Cork opted to sit back at the start and as the game progressed got tighter. It worked in that Cork conceded no goals against a team that likes to get goals.
“Galway will be favourites but Cork can do very well provided the supply is there for that forward line. It’s very hard for a team to put two games of the intensity Galway showed against Kilkenny back-to-back That’s why I think Cork will do well on Sunday.”
Curran: Be patient with new defence