There was no surprise that a Cork team got relegated on Sunday last. What was surprising was that it was the footballers. It was strange really, after losing five games you’d have to say that the hurlers deserved to go down. The footballers on the other hand, while being inconsistent, still managed to win three games. What makes it more galling for them is that they beat two of the teams that stayed up at their expense, Mayo and Monaghan, quite comfortably. Such are the slings and arrows of sport.
In retrospect it’s easy to pick the Roscommon game as being the one that did the terminal damage. It was certainly the stand-out result. However, as we filled the gap on Sunday between the Kerry game on TG4 and the ensuing Twitter scramble on our phones for news from Salthill (radio wasn’t an option!), my father picked out the Down game as a lost opportunity. Down have been utterly dismal and Cork should have really pushed on in that game, really sought to put them to the sword. Had they done so it could have been two good news stories on Sunday.
But their faith was still in their own hands in Tralee. They just didn’t play like it was ‘do or die’ for long enough periods. They overcame their abysmal start with a mixture of endeavour and fortune and moved the ball well after half-time to somehow find themselves in a position of parity. But despite that, there was never the feeling that they could finish the job – not that there ever is that feeling against Kerry. When the inevitable became reality Cork were, again, beaten. It’s still hard to know where they are in the greater scheme of things. Things aren’t so bad that you wouldn’t expect them to be heading back to Killarney for another crack off the old enemy in July. However, anything beyond the August weekend would be bonus territory. They’ve used a huge amount of players and unearthed one at least one genuine talent in Peter Kelleher. Division 2 isn’t a disaster and they should come out of it quickly. All in all, relegation isn’t as big of a disaster as it would have been for the hurlers.
Family commitments had all of us on edge as we kept up to the date with the Galway game. Considering everything we’ve seen there was a sense of disbelief as Cork bursted out of the blocks. It sounded like a repeat of the Kilkenny game with a better result. The most pleasing aspect of the win was the fact that they came from behind. That durability was also there against Kilkenny when they answered TJ Reid’s goal and as summer, in theory, approaches that’s what you can’t do without, the ability to keep going even when things are going against you.
The hurling league maybe unjust but that’s not Cork’s problem and this really was a huge result. It showed that Thurles really was shadow-boxing and that this Cork team have the capability to be a good one. The clean sheet was welcome but there’s still a need to tighten up at the back. The shift of Christopher Joyce to centre-back, be it by accident or design, has worked well. With Lorcán McLoughlin on one side of him and ,hopefully, Mark Ellis on the other there’s the makings of a half-back line that’s better than what we’ve had for a few years. A launching pad.
Salthill also confirmed for definite that the league as a whole was only considered as a means to an end by the management team. The focus is Thurles on May 22nd. There’s no more excuses now. With that in mind it was surprising to see the players trimmed from the panel. I felt particularly sorry for Patrick Cronin and Shane O’Neill. They’ve been excellent Cork servants in tough times for Cork hurling. Patrick Cronin was the victim of uncalled for criticism on occasion. He was Cork’s only ball winner for a few years. He never hid, always looked for the ball no matter how he was playing. I still thought he had something to offer. Both of them have had their fair share of injuries and illness. It all clocks up in the end I suppose. Hurling, like all sport, is a cruel, cruel game.
The win against Galway was followed by more good news from Walsh Park and Tralee during the week. It was the first good week of the year for Cork GAA. It was badly needed. There were moments in February and March that really darkened the soul. The hope that infects you at the start of every year has just about survived the league. Now it’s nearly time for the real thing. I can now at least look forward to it, as opposed to approaching it with a sense of doom.