Everything is relative. Relative to where you came from and where you want to go. So, before looking back on last Sunday, lets look at where we were coming from. This time last year, as we licked our wounds after an aimless championship exit at the hands of Wexford, Cork were as close to rock bottom as they had been for a long time.
It wasn’t just the seniors. The minors and the u-21’s also appeared to be stuck in a state of permanent stagnation, the decline being long gone. The only bright spot was the development squads. But there’s never any guarantee that these successes will carry through up the ranks. Also, the mere fact that supporters were aware of – and clinging to – the outstanding work going on at that level only seemed to highlight the desperation and the desperate state of affairs.
A year later and those causes for optimism have carried on. The U-17’s have annexed an All-Ireland title, in Croke Park, the minors are in the final and are as good a team that the county has produced in twenty years, thus creating a special place in supporters’ hearts already. The U-21’s reached a Munster Final where, as much as anything else, occasions just informed against them.
All of this in itself would have constituted a good year for Cork hurling. Relative to where it was coming from. A decent performance against Tipp in the senior arena and a run to the quarter finals and we’d all have been as happy as could be expected. It would have been progress, real progress.
Then, out of the blue, the seniors took off and won a fantastic Munster title. An incredible Munster title where they rolled over three teams that had real aspirations of being in Croke Park come September. And it was a new Cork team. Yes, there were familiar faces yet, paradoxically, a lot of them were unrecognisable. There were new faces too, but they weren’t guys who’d been around for a while and were just thrown in to try something new. They were real new faces with talent and potential.
Then came last Sunday, a day that was as frustrating as it was disappointing. As we’re constantly reminded, semi-finals are for winning (what game isn’t?) and Cork have developed a habit of not winning them. That’s five of the last six that we’ve come up short in, though we did win five of the previous six to that. There’s balance!
Waterford were always going to be a different task this time around. They were more physical, less naive and weren’t going to let Cork get a run at them this time around, no matter what. It was a game for winning, after all.
What’s frustrating is that, just prior to Damien Cahalane’s red card, Cork seemed to be getting on top, to be getting into the game a bit more. The performance after half-time was much improved and they seemed to be coming into the game at the right time. There was a point from Harnedy, the line-ball from Fitzgibbon and Pat Horgan just kept doing what he was doing. They were just moving the ball a bit better, finding a bit of space.
The red card just changed the dynamic of the game entirely and it’s frustrating that Cork didn’t get into the last ten minutes at 15 v 15, just so we could really see where we were at. I really would have just loved to see how Cork would have responded to being in a winning position and how Waterford would have responded to being in a losing one. As it was, we just gave it to them.
They did answer the red-card well, however, as Austin Gleeson’s lead score was answered by three-in-a row from Cadogan and Horgan (2). No more goals after that and who knows? As Chris Joyce, who should keep his head held very high, came out of defence with the ball I was even thinking that a three point lead might be on the way. But he wasn’t given enough options as he tried to do the right thing. The same runs and energy from Munster just weren’t there, and that was that.
Of course, it’s also frustrating that there was a clear red-card for Waterford in the first-half. There’s been enough said and written about it all week but retrospective action would have been no good to Cork. It was a game changer at the time but as my brother reminded me afterwards “events dear boy, events”. Things just happen.
The hurlers and their management gave us a tremendous year They put a bit of pride back in the jersey and gave us a lot of enjoyment, a lot of memories. They’ve left us hungry for more, as I’m sure they are themselves. As the evenings shorten I look forward to watching them with their clubs and I’m already looking forward to the turn of the year and doing it all over again. It won’t be blind hope this time. And there’s a lot to be said for that.
We’ve plenty of young, talented men, we’ve found our voice again and lets hope we can continue to make a bit of noise.