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Monday 21 August 2017

Pa's quest

Cork captain Pa Cronin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Cork captain Pa Cronin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

IT may seem a surprising admission, but knowing all that he knows now, Pa Cronin is actually glad he started coughing up blood during a club championship match in early June.

Without that deafening alarm bell, would this Leeside leader be in such a fit and healthy state this week, preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final against the Dublin hurlers? Quite possibly not.

Cronin had a pep in his step when he talked to The Herald at Cork's press day in Páirc Uí Rinn, but that was certainly not the case a couple of months earlier, when Bishopstown faced Courcey Rovers in the first round of the local senior hurling championship.

"I had pneumonia for a couple of weeks before the Clare game," says the Cork captain, referencing their Munster semi-final in June, "but it wasn't known until I got a bang on my chest in a club championship game against Courcey Rovers and I started coughing up a load of blood that time. You'd panic when you see that, so I went straight to CUH (Cork University Hospital) and I was there for 10 days."

All's well that ends well: following his release from hospital, Cronin got the medical all-clear for a late cameo off the bench during Cork's emphatic win over Clare. He started the Munster final against Limerick – a less auspicious day for the Rebels – but then helped them achieve a landmark quarter-final victory over the ousted champions, Kilkenny, at the back end of July.

Next up the Dubs in Croke Park this Sunday. But first, back to that scary bout of illness.

"I got the bang after 10 or 15 minutes," he recalls. "I think the doctor came in and started checking was it my tongue or something, but I could feel it deep down in my lungs. So, you panic when you see things like that

(the coughed-up blood) ... I knew something was wrong because I would have got thousands of those collisions before and nothing would have happened." As for the source of his pneumonia, Cronin explains: "I knew I wasn't feeling myself. You'd be a bit run down and a bit drained and things like that. When you train very, very hard, your immune system goes low and you're prone to infection and it developed on from that ... I would have kept going training and kept playing away, and obviously it was getting worse and worse."

Potentially very dangerous?

"Exactly, yeah, it was very dangerous. But I suppose I look back on that club championship game as a blessing in disguise. If I didn't get that bang into the chest, I would have continued on the season and been run down and drained and playing – and not playing well."

Expert treatment and medical reassurance got Cronin back in the frame to think of hurling. "I was dealing with Dr Barry Plant who's very close to Dr Con (Murphy, Cork GAA's renowned team medic), so he would have known about sport as well. The two of them work very well together and they said there'd be no way you could start on the Sunday (of the Clare game), but 10/15 minutes should be okay."

Powerful

Now, though, he's ready for 70 full-on minutes against Dublin. The 6ft 3in Cronin is taller and more powerful than the Cork forward stereotype and hopes that several of his smaller colleagues – having survived everything that JJ, Jackie and Tommy could throw at them – will be steeled for another demanding challenge.

"A lot of our players wouldn't be big, physical players – whereas you look at Dublin, they're very physical, they're very strong. But I suppose any Cork team is obviously going to have very skillful players and we have that. It's going to be an unbelievably tough game for us."

And yet Cronin is cautiously optimistic that Cork can absorb the lessons of last year's semi-final defeat to Galway ("Maybe it was a bit too soon," he harks back) and go at least one step further this year.

The sceptics were queuing up after Cork's league demotion to Division 1B last spring – following an extra-time play-off defeat to Clare – but their 26-year-old skipper reckons the criticism was way over the top.

"We were a puck of a ball away from being in the league semi-final, and people were saying we were finished," he recounts.

The following Tuesday, at training, manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy reminded everyone that he'd been involved with previous teams that had suffered relegation only to bounce back and win things. Now Cork are just two victories away from proving the wisdom of JBM.

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