Nobody has done more to make it to this All-Ireland semi-final than Ger Millerick
Ger Millerick hurled one of the worst games of his life in 2020 when, with the temptation of an All-Ireland club semi-final pulling him in, he threw caution to the wind and said to hell with it.
There's no way in heaven Millerick, on one leg and with no training, should have been hurling the day Fr O'Neill's defeated Tooreen of Mayo but after two years of disillusion and disenchantment, he just couldn't sit still any longer.
It was the same story a fortnight later when, in turning out to pick up one of the greatest players of all-time, Millerick wasn't even half-way to right. There was still no way Tommy Walsh could have known of his marker's struggles because, with this greyhound stalking his every move, hooking his every swing and surging onto every break, Millerick ignored two years of hurt for 90 minutes of hurling.
He'd know all about it over the next fortnight as, having given his bodies' calls and cries the cold shoulder, they returned to hit him like the steam from a hot bath. That was nothing compared to the pain of losing a proverbial thriller of an All-Ireland final but Millerick hadn't any regrets because, the way he saw it then and as long as it was going on at that stage, hurling had sadly become more dodge the bullets than empty the tank.
"I was chatting to him at training below one of the nights when the club were on that run to the final and Ger just said to me 'Seamus I'd love to be training. I'd love it, but I just can't,'" recalls Séamus Joyce, PRO and registrar of the east Cork GAA club.
Millerick was only 20 years of age but that he couldn't train or play was more of a blow than you might think it to be for both club and county. A star on the Cork team that made it to the 2017 All-Ireland minor final, Millerick had graduated to the county's under-21s before his 19th birthday. It was in that same year when this prodigious teenager turned heads all over the county when he bolted from the blue to earn man-of-the-match for divisional side Imokilly in their first ever county final win. Young man, big prospect. Given the injury hell that lay in store, this reputation became more important than he might have wanted it to be.
"Ah it's a nightmare for any young fella not to be able to go out and hurl without worrying about injuries but especially for someone like Ger, who lives and breathes his hurling. It was a killer for Ger, it was a killer for the club and you just really felt for him at the time, I think the whole parish did."
Better to sit and suffer than to wait and wonder and as he went from physio to physio, from specialist to surgeon, desperate to get to the bottom of the pain that started in his knee and when he started to run, overwhelmed his leg, the biggest pain of all for Millerick was that nobody could put a finger on what was actually wrong.
"He didn't actually do his knee. It was an injury that started in his knee and would spread up into his groin. The poor fella, he had a nightmare for two years with that injury because he wasn't able to hurl and when he did hurl, it was just pushing through the pain barrier. Then he'd be in bother for a week or two after because of the damage done. There wasn't an avenue he didn't explore in his attempts to get it right, going to physios and specialists all over and the most killing thing about it for Ger was that, at that stage, nobody could put a finger on what was actually wrong," adds Joyce.
But Kieran Kingston had seen something. Maybe it was a legacy of his underage career, his breakthrough with Imokilly but whatever it was, the Cork manager brought him in and saw to it that, until this man was able to hurl again, he wouldn't be going anywhere.
"I'd say it stemmed from that performance with Imokilly in October 2017. He was only 18 but he was man-of-the-match in the county final at midfield. They spotted something in him and even though he was struggling, they brought him in and kept working away with him, kept trying to get him right. I mean, the amount of hurling he has played in the last three or four years, most lads would play in a year. But if anything, that showed how highly Kieran Kingston and the Cork management thought of him and Ger would be very appreciative of them all for that..."
"It's also a huge credit to Ger that, even when it dragged on and it would have been easy to throw in the towel, he kept doing his rehab, kept himself in good nick and kept battling on. He wouldn't be a Millerick if he did anything else," adds Joyce.
"Himself and all of his siblings - there are five brothers and one sister - they are all the same. They are all fairly slight, there's not much to them but as you see with Ger, they're like total greyhounds. Every one of them is a hurling manager/selector/coach's dream. They will never miss training. Always be there on time. Never open their mouths. No matter what they're asked to do, they just get on with it. They're a farming family, their dad is a farmer, their mother is a Tipp woman and they're a well thought of family in the parish. They're disciplined to the core, always doing the right thing. I'm telling you and when they're on the field it's work, work, work, you'd have to shoot them to stop them..."
Outside of Fr. O'Neill's, far from Cork and in hurling households all over the country, watching Millerick attack every ball like his life depends on it, they're beginning to see that now. He made his championship debut at wing back just a month ago against Limerick, standing out with his abandon and freedom and, having only been fit enough to play in two League games, it's been quite a leap of faith from Kingston.
"We weren't really expecting him to get the start because as far as we concerned, he was still getting right with the injury. One thing we did know for sure was how highly thought of he was by Kieran Kingston and the Cork management. That's the only reason they got involved in getting to the bottom of this injury. He was thrown in at the deep end then against Limerick but he came out smelling of roses. It was the deep-end in fairness and others who didn't know him might have worried about him but we knew Ger would be able for it. Just takes it all in his stride. It's not that his cocky, confident, he just goes out and plays, no fuss, just attacks the game, attacks the ball and gives it a lash."
He'll do the same thing again this Sunday. Get out there and give it a lash. There were enough times when he wasn't able to.