All the noises coming out of the Cork camp are as you’d expect. Talking up Tipperary, downplaying their own expectations, Tipp are great, we are where we are – blah, blah blah. It’s been an exhibition of talking as much as you have to, without really saying anything. And I’ve been delighted to hear it. Every team loves to come in under the radar – the less attention the better – but once 4:00pm comes on Sunday we’ll know if Cork mean what they’ve being saying this week, or whether they’re actually there to make a serious statement of intent.
It goes without saying that I’m expecting the latter. But I don’t know if it will be good enough to secure victory. There’s nothing surprising about the Cork team and there’ll be nothing revolutionary about how they will set up. Brian Lawton and Bill Cooper will play deep but it’s essential that this isn’t done so at the cost of granting Padraic Maher the freedom of Thurles. William Egan will support the half-back line, allowing Christopher Joyce to anchor and offer extra protection in front of Seamus Callanan. Again, this must be done without giving too much space to Brendan Maher and Michael Breen. Then there’s also Bubbles, Noel and John McGrath to keep quiet. It’s a delicate balance. No Bonnar Maher though.
Seamus Harnedy will be the fulcrum in the forward line and you’d hope that he will cause plenty of damage on his own and, in doing so, create more space for the likes of Horgan, Cadogan and Lehane. However, all of this is utterly irrelevant unless Cork bring the physicality and intensity that’s necessary for championship hurling, or any form of competitive hurling for that matter. They brought it in spades against Kilkenny but that was a long time ago now. It’s no secret that much of the winter and spring was spent in the gym, catching up. Now we’ll finally get to see it in action. Win the battle and the hurling, in theory, will look after itself. Here’s hoping.
The build up to the game has nearly been under the radar as much as Cork have. The epic nature of the league-final saga has focussed the public attention squarely on Clare and Waterford. ‘The young riseth when the old doth fall’ and all of that. Maybe there’s no point in playing the game at all tomorrow. Or maybe people have forgotten that Tipp should really have left Cusack Park after the league quarter-final with the win. I can see tomorrow broadening the narrative once again.
There’s nothing I can say about Cork and Tipp that hasn’t been said already, other than it’s greatness cannot be properly articulated. It has that perfect mix of respect, hatred and camaraderie. Both teams have had their golden periods and winters of discontent. Whenever I complain about Cork’s lack of recent success my father is quick to remind me that I have it lucky. Had I been around in the 60’s I’d have known real suffering, real desolation and envisaged a conceivable future in which Cork might never beat Tipp again. I’ve even been lucky enough to live through an age where Cork can approach the game with no fear. And that’s the way it will be on Sunday, even if it’s only been one win in the last seven.
I really can’t wait for it now. But I’m also worried that it will all go horribly wrong. That’s all that’s left to do now; wait and worry; worry and wait. Sometimes it’s to be endured rather than to be enjoyed. Corcaigh abú.