O'Connor: Kerry and Dublin the big threats for Cork27/07/2012 - 11:47:18
Alan O'Connor is hoping that Cork can once again scale the heights of an All-Ireland SFC final appearance, but there is no fear of them getting ahead of themselves as they await their opponents for an August Bank Holiday weekend quarter-final.
Twelve counties remain in contention for All-Ireland honours and O'Connor knows whomever they draw from the fourth round qualifier winners on Saturday night will prove sticky opposition in the last-eight.
The Cork midfielder sees their great rivals Kerry as one of those major threats, stating: "For sure Kerry will be tough. They have a great bunch of players.
"They showed that last week (against Tyrone) that with a bit of hunger and fight that they are a side to be reckoned with.
"They have got great forwards and they will be there or thereabouts on this All-Ireland stage."
Further down the line O’Connor expects reigning Leinster and All-Ireland champions Dublin to be the team to beat.
"Dublin have a great panel of players and they can throw players off the bench of equal ability. It's all about strength in depth now and they have that bit of experience as well.
"They learned their lessons over the last couple of games and they will be there or thereabouts in the next couple of weeks."
Conor Counihan's charges will have the longest wait between the provincial final and their last-eight encounter, and O'Connor concedes it has been a tough slog on the training pitches of late.
"We have been training hard and we can only focus on ourselves and what we do," he admitted.
"We can only play against ourselves so it has been 'A' versus 'B' games. They are very intense and the work-rate and the emphasis and enthusiasm in every training game is vitally important.
"We have to be really driving ourselves on. The teams coming through the qualifiers have that bit more of a bite at Championship.
"In hindsight though maybe the injuries are kept at bay that bit more and your hunger then when it comes to it among the lads is more focused. The body might be more tired coming through the qualifiers."
Munster has certainly shown its worth this year, and with Tipperary making an impressive run through the qualifiers, O'Connor says that the Munster Championship offers a good platform to build on ahead of
challenges in the All-Ireland series.
"Tipperary, if you could take a leaf out of their book, they won a minor All-Ireland last year and they beat Kerry in the Munster minor final this year.
"Tipperary are an up and coming team and the senior team against Down the next day should do well. Down will have their work cut out to beat Tipperary."
Club action also played its part for the Rebels in recent weeks, and O'Connor says it was good to have that to focus the mind.
"The County Board this year gave us a fair run-in and a break of three weeks before any inter-county games are played.
"That's something different to other years and that shows the lengths they are going to to help us.
"We've had a nice period of time now for any of the guys who were carrying a knock or injury to get themselves sorted. There's plenty of time to work on things as well."
Cork delivered their 37th Munster SFC title thanks to a 3-16 to 0-13 win over Clare in the recent decider.
O'Connor says that provincial honours are hugely important for the Rebels if they hope to annex All-Ireland silverware further down the line.
"It is vital to us. I treasure every Munster medal I get and I feel it is a stepping stone to the bigger picture," he added.
"Getting to the All-Ireland stage is a big thing for us and it's important to do through the front door if possible.”
On a personal level, O'Connor has been putting in some solid shifts at midfield and has firmly nailed down a starting berth in Cork's engine room. He has been delighted with his progress.
"Coming in and playing against the likes of Nicholas Murphy the standards are set high. You learn a good few things off guys like Nicholas.
"Guys wouldn't be as green as they would be starting out. I built off a platform and have tried to become a bit of a leader around the pitch, because I'm there a few years now."
Cork's 2010 All-Ireland SFC final win over Down seems light years away now, but O'Connor says there has not been much need to tweak Cork's game-plan and training techniques since then.
"It's continuing to work well for us. We have the same bunch of guys and the same selectors, trainers - the whole lot.
"Maybe things are freshened up a bit more by changing things around slightly alright, but we still have the same work ethic and the same approach to training as we would have in 2010.
"Maybe the monkey is off the back for us now and we are that bit more relaxed.
"We know that we are a bit more relaxed going into games and we are hopefully that bit more cuter as the game goes on. We can read games that much better maybe. It's a good thing."
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