Conor Lehane is in the zone
By Cian O’Connell
On the eve of the Munster Hurling Championship the sense of anticipation is increasing so Conor Lehane is primed for action.
Cork’s Pairc Ui Chaoimh tussle against Clare is loaded with significance on Sunday with Lehane delighted to be involved.
In recent years Cork and Clare have competed in some absorbing Championship tussles and another one is set to be added to the list this weekend.
Four matches in five weekends will be a severe test, but it is one Lehane is happy to embrace.
“Definitely, it is new and there is a bit of excitement around because you don't know what way it will go,” he says. “More games is better for spectators and players just want to be playing games anyway rather than being stuck training the whole time.
“What I would take mostly from it really is that you have to remind yourself it is very panel orientated. A lot will depend on how strong a panel is and how well you keep yourself because you could easily get injured.
It is good in its own way that you aren't just hanging around, but after your first loss it will be a tough one to get over. At least, though, you will have an opportunity so soon.
“Before you normally would have a two week gap to recover. Now you are actually back on the following week so you have to mind yourself that way.”
How teams cope with victory or defeat will also provide a mental examination. “It is, but it could be good too because you don't have time to think,” Lehane states. “You will just be going on to the next game straightaway, you won't be hanging around for a few weeks between games.
“You will just get one done and move on to the next one. It will be the exact same thing again then the following week. It is good in its own way that you aren't just hanging around, but after your first loss it will be a tough one to get over. At least, though, you will have an opportunity so soon.”
It has been a strange stint for Cork. Coming within a whisker of All Ireland glory in 2013, Cork subsequently won a Munster title a year later before suffering a demoralising Croke Park semi-final loss to Tipperary.
That was a damaging defeat with 2015 and 2016 bringing further disappointment prior to a stunning return to summer form in 2017. Maintaining the momentum generated is key. “That is the thing, that is exactly it,” Lehane admits.
“Any momentum we had going it can be very effective. It can be very helpful to a team. It was a disappointing way to end it because we thought we had momentum and were on a bit of a roll in a way, but obviously the six week gap or whatever it was, there is no definite or one answer for it.
“Definitely if you get on a roll in the Munster Championship this year with a good run of games your confidence would be booming, you'd be in the best position you could be in. That is huge and vice versa then if you are not, it will be a tough situation to be in as well.”
That 2014 setback against Tipperary was a serious blow. “We were just shocked at the way it went more than anything,” Lehane reflects. “Tipp just played so well and had us sussed out.
“I know there was a massive gap between the two games we had. I just remember the gap back then, but it is something you have to learn from.
“If you get into that situation again where there is going to be space you have to learn to adapt to it. Other teams then obviously have done it and can do it. After it we looked at it as a new year and we tried to drive on, but maybe behind it all there was a thing there alright.”
I remember on Munster Final day looking around, the majority of the crowd was red.
Having unearthed so many young hurlers in the provincial winning campaign the depth of the Cork panel has been bolstered. “Exactly, that is it and it has always been important, there is no doubt about that, but especially with the effect fellas have when they came on,” Lehane states.
“They bring an extra energy, it can really turn a game to bring a team on, give them a lot more fire in the belly. It is unreal the effect it can have.
“With these games tiredness could be a big factor with cramps so fellas will have to come on to do the business regardless of what time they come on.
“Everyone will have to be ready no matter what. It will be interesting to see how everyone reacts to it really. It is so new and it is nearly like back in the minor days when you have a game every week.”
When Cork motor smoothly the red and white jerseys bring a dash of colour and Lehane reckons a buzz has been generated once again. “It is unreal, you can definitely see the difference,” Lehane acknowledges. “I remember on Munster Final day looking around, the majority of the crowd was red.
“The main parts were red, when you see that, I know you don't want to be looking at the crowd or anything, but you can see it and hear it around you it has an effect.
“When you know people are behind you it makes you go that bit more. For a few years we weren't performing and the crowd weren't pleased with how we were playing which is very fair. Once we were all on the same page it is very uplifting.”
While the commitment levels required continue to increase Lehane simply enjoys hurling for Cork. “100%, if I wasn't 100% into it I wouldn't do it because you'd never get the best out of yourself or put yourself in the position to get the best out of yourself,” Lehane responds.
You can always tell, though, after games or even before games how much it means to fellas.
“You'd only be wasting your own and everyone elses time just because it is convenient or you are used to doing it over the years. I enjoy it as much as I ever did, but the year can be so long it is just about keeping yourself motivated -throughout the year it can be difficult to do.
“You have to try to keep the motivation going. You do whatever it takes to get it back, as soon as you get it back you are on track again then.”
There is a pride associated with being involved. “You are spot on, it is probably not said as much, but everyone feels that way,” Lehane adds.
“For whatever reason back in the day people might have been more open about it or something, but it is nearly a cool thing not to say it, just to get on with it. You can always tell, though, after games or even before games how much it means to fellas.
“You'd see how people react under those situations going into a big game, fellas change. You could be chatting to a guy in the dressing room and then when it is game time he changes.
“That is because of how much it means to him. If he didn't care a fella wouldn't think twice, he would just get on with it. When you see someone getting in the zone, getting pumped up it means something to him. Just because he mightn't be saying it doesn't mean he isn't showing it.”
On Sunday afternoon Lehane and Cork will hope to marry that passion with poise down by the Lee.
Conor Lehane was at the Bandon GAA Grounds, County Cork to launch the GAA Super Games Centre in partnership with Sky Sports. The Super Games Centres which are based all over the country, were set up to reduce youth drop out and encourage “play to stay” amongst youth, specifically between the ages of 12 and 17 where youth drop out is most prevalent. Sky Sports is supporting the GAA Super Games Centres by arranging visits with Sky Sports mentors and providing kits and equipment to the estimated 9,000 members countrywide.