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Hurling: TIPP'S HOT BETT; KILKENNY v TIPPERARY Croke Park, 3.30pm Today - Live on NET 2 TV.

Byline: PAUL KEANE

LAR CORBETT smiles at the memory of his first interview as a little known Tipperary senior player in 2001... how quickly times change - now he's big business.

It was media night before their decider date with Galway two years ago and journalists flocked around the familiar names of Dunne, Corcoran, Cummins and Ryan before a light Semple Stadium runout.

Out around midfield a youngster with an unfamiliar face continued his drill of pucking a sliothar high into the air and controlling the dropping ball with a watchmaker's precision on his hurl.

From behind came the murmur: "Is that the young fella...Corbett?"

And the confirmation: "Has the look of him all right."

It's what the Thurles man is all about, doing his job and avoiding the limelight.

A quiet unassuming lad off the field, but a demon with a hurl in his hand.

Only too happy to chew the cud if necessary, equally content to continue pucking that ball high into the air while the others do all the talking.

Ahead of this afternoon's All-Ireland semi-final tie with Kilkenny nearly two years later Corbett is still the same and still very level headed.

But it's highly unlikely he'd walk into his local pub in Thurles these days without a few heads turning and whispering: "There's Lar, the guy that won the All-Ireland in 2001."

Corbett, true to character shrugs it all off, and explains: "Initially there was no pressure on my shoulders, not compared to the likes of Eoin Kelly for instance who'd been charted for years through the underage teams.

"I was pretty much plucked out of thin air by Nicky English the way a lot of people saw it. I was a relative unknown but it didn't bother me at all.

"No one was saying they expected more or less of me because I wasn't an underage star so it allowed me to play with a certain freedom."

Like most teen sensations who clean up in their debut year as Corbett did they inevitably find it difficult to maintain the same form the following year. Defenders quickly wise up.

Corbett's period of grace had gone and he was a marked man after that.

In fact by the end of last year he wondered if he'd even be kept on the panel by new boss Michael Doyle after a disappointing campaign.

Thankfully for the Thurles-based electrician he found his spark in some style during this year's league campaign and racked up a whopping 9-14 to stake his claim to a championship berth.

With Kilkenny looming and the No.15 jersey on his back Corbett finds it hard to hide the smile.

"I can't wait for it," he enthused. "I had a dead leg earlier in the year and I've a slight hamstring problem at the moment, but I've been named to play so hopefully I'll make it.

"Sure you'd kill to play in a game like this, it's where you want to be. There's plenty of history there between the sides too and most of it in Kilkenny's favour."

The counties have met three times in the last 12 months - the All-Ireland semi-final last August and twice in this year's league - with Kilkenny winning each time. Both the semi-final and the league final could, and some argue should have gone Tipp's way with the most recent league decider ending up in a thrilling 5-14 to 5-13 Kilkenny win.

But Corbett argued: "They won and that's the bottom line. People say it could have easily been 2-1 to us in the pecking order but it's not, it's 3-0 and they're the facts.

"Kilkenny have obviously got that bit in reserve to grind out the win and that's what we're up against."

If Tipp are to prevail then Corbett's personal dual with Kilkenny AllStar Michael Kavanagh, another unassuming but solid player, will be integral. Corbett said: "We've met a few times so I'd know his calibre.

"He's one of the best players in the country but you wouldn't expect anything less at this stage.

"You've got to beat the best to win the All-Ireland."

CAPTION(S):

AFTER THE LAR-ST LAUGH: Lar Corbett knows they will have to be on top form to win
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 17, 2003
Words:705
Previous Article:Hurling: We Kav a tough job ahead.
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