Murphy: Cork will not pop under pressure
Battle-hardened veteran says experience will stand to Rebels
MANY felt it was inevitable that Cork would be contesting Sunday's All-Ireland final from right back since the start of the year. More were swayed by the Rebels' ability to win a league title seemingly at their ease.
They haven't been convincing and, for the most part, it hasn't been pretty, but you couldn't fault them for efficiency.
Whereas Down have zipped, darted and pinged their way into Sunday's final with a sort of innocent exuberance which has earned the acclaim of most neutrals, Cork have, to a large extent, bludgeoned their way to another third Sunday in September.
It's just their way. Pragmatic and a little predictable they may be, but the other 30 non-participating counties in Sunday's final must be more than a smidgen jealous of their ability to win tight and scattered matches.
Just ask Dublin. To that end, Nicholas Murphy has seen it all -- except a championship start in 2010.
In his 13th season as a Cork senior, he bears all the scars of the many gruesome battles the Rebels have fought over that strangely unfulfilling timespan. So much so that he has not started a match for Cork this year, though his contribution to their last two wins over Roscommon and Dublin was acute.
An injury to his lower spine has put paid to any more prolonged involvement and, chances are, he'll start on the bench on Sunday again. Yet in the era of the 20-man game, having a player of the stature and ability of Murphy to introduce has had its healthy share of benefits for Conor Counihan.
Murphy's personal bounty of silverware contains five Munster medals, three league titles and an All Star, yet from the middle of the last decade, that elusive All-Ireland has been the only real measure of success for him and the more grizzled members of the Cork panel.
The capturing of Sam has become an obsession amongst the Leeside big ball fraternity. So much so that some have questioned whether the pressure of finally delivering the elusive canister has hindered their most recent attempts to do just that. But Murphy reckons the experience of coming so close so many times has its nutritional benefits too.
"We're experienced enough at this stage to handle that kind of pressure," he says. "Every fella wants to be playing in an All-Ireland final, Down would be no different. You still have to treat it like it's your first All-Ireland because the fact that you were there the last couple of years means nothing now.
"You can only do something about what's happening ahead of you, not about what happened before."
Previous incarnations of this Cork team have thread a misshapen form line, one which arched skywards before plummeting in September.
Given they have failed to sparkle to the same degree this summer, a repeat will surely cast them as broken-hearted bridesmaids again this Sunday. Murphy accepts that Cork have flopped in previous finals but notes that the necessary lessons have been learned too.
"We didn't play as well in those finals as we did in the previous games and we hope that we can reverse that this time. Hopefully, fellas will have the experience from last year and the previous time and be able to perform on the day and grind out a result because at the end of the day, it's a results game.
"If you can get a performance it's a bonus but it's about pushing it over the line and that's something we fell short on last year."
Grinding has become Cork's default setting in the last two games. Dublin had them on the ropes and punch-drunk in the semi-final yet the Rebels never wilted. They never blinked or flinched either and when the opportunity came to put it up to Dublin, they blasted them with direct running and won the tough balls to force the penalty and frees which ultimately won them the match.
"There's great belief and confidence in the team," Murphy notes. "The fact that we didn't panic in the last 10 minutes was the big thing.
"We've kept going for the full 70 minutes in every game (this summer), that's the big thing that's been driven into us all year -- keep playing until the end and we've plenty of fellas that can come on and finish off the job, hopefully.
"Against Dublin we felt the experience of the team came through and will get us through the next day."
Murphy rejects the notion that Sunday's task is made easier by virtue of the fact that Kerry are gone from the September spotlight: "At the end of the day," he says, "it's an All-Ireland final and you're trying to concentrate on your own side of it and once you get that right it'll take a good team to beat you."
And he has cast aside the personal misfortune of a 'lost summer' and has his eyes squarely fixed on the big prize on Sunday.
"It's been a stop-start year for me with injuries but it's coming good at the right time of the year," he reckons. "I missed out a couple of months during the summer and it was very frustrating watching the lads on the sideline but I'm back playing now and hopefully I'll be OK."
He may be consigned to a more peripheral role but if Cork do finally capture Sam Maguire this Sunday, his finger prints will be all over their success.