It was time for some real action. The disappointments of last year are just about bygone enough so as not to be haunting while the prospect of more pain is still far enough away so as not to be daunting. Everybody is back to zero. We’re all equal. For a while at least. Up until the weekend I was happy enough to follow things from a relative distance whether it be newspapers, Twitter or, best of all, third or fourth hand information. Gossip. But even that has been thin enough on the ground, thankfully.
This wave of renewed enthusiasm was enough to carry me to two games over the weekend, and in my father I had a willing accomplice. An all Cork Harty Cup semi-final is always an attractive fixture but in these lean times it bore an added significance. It was refreshing to see such a large crowd in Mallow – over 2,500 – and the atmosphere was electric.
The game itself never really got going but I still enjoyed it. One of the ways Cork has fallen behind the pack is in the ability to win ‘dirty ball’. Another one is the inability to bring the required intensity. I’m not entirely sure what either of these intrinsic facets of the game exactly mean but I’m sure I saw plenty of it in Mallow. There was a real physical nature to the game that was to be admired. Midleton CBS will be disappointed, obviously, and St. Colman’s will improve on this performance in the final. Between them they’ve shared three of the last four Dean Ryan titles, and that can only be good news.
While the game on Saturday was the pinnacle of schools’ hurling, the final of the Munster league on Sunday was merely the end of the beginning for all concerned. Yet as we travelled to Limerick, there was an unspoken understanding that it was probably a bit more important than we were willing to admit. It doesn’t need to be explained what this competition is all about, it doesn’t need to be explained that it means nothing in the long run and it doesn’t need to be said that it should be immediately forgotten about. But it is ok to say that it was nice to win it.
The minimum was there all the way through; good work ethic, a bit of spirit and a few flashes of really good hurling. The young players all showed up well at different times. Mark Coleman was consistent all the way through, Luke Meade came into it in the last quarter, Darragh Fitzgibbon showed flashes of what he has to offer, Shane Kingston did the same and a bit more while David Griffin also impressed on his introduction.
As for the more established players, Mark Ellis and Alan Cadogan were the best of the bunch. Cadogan was particularly impressive, his first touch, while attacking the ball at full pace in horrible conditions, was outstanding.
Limerick’s goal early in the first-half was the difference between the teams for the most part and it was a poor goal to concede. Everyone was drawn to the ball and David Dempsey was left completely unmarked and that goal undid much of Cork’s early good work. But Cork showed grit, particularly in reeling off five points in a row to take the lead by one as the game approached its conclusion. I thought that one more score would do it at that stage, but it didn’t come.
Then Limerick equalised and had a point given to them by the referee despite the umpire calling it wide and no Limerick protests. Diarmaid Byrnes followed this with a monstrous free to give them a two-point lead, and as I sat there, staring into the gloomy January evening, I tried desperately to convince myself that it was ok, that it didn’t matter and it was only a meaningless, glorified challenge game.
Then, just as I was at peace with that, Alan Cadogan saved the day, planting the late winner with aplomb. It didn’t merit a leap or a roar but it did muster a smile and my father did get a slap on the back. It meant everything and it meant nothing. It made the journey home easier and kept the enthusiasm in tact for the visit of Clare on February 11th.
There was also a notable off-field development over the weekend; the ascension of Pearse Murphy to the treasury of the Munster Council. It seems like a long serving, respected officer will be abdicating his long held position in the County Board. What does it all mean? Similar to the game on Sunday, it probably means nothing, yet it might mean something. As everything does.