Into the Great Wide Open

It’s that time of year again. Everybody back to zero, hopes and dreams aplenty and more games than ever to look forward to. So why is it that anxiousness is the word that would best describe the mood?

The reason for this anxiety?  Expectation. There’s a certain freedom that goes with having none. You know where you stand, you’re prepared for the worst and you’re pleasantly surprised or supremely elated when things go well or better than well. Like last year did.

It was around this time last year that Alan Cadogan plundered a last-minute goal to win the prestigious (or irrelevant, depending on where you’re at) Munster League against Limerick and there was enough to see that day to know that things mightn’t be too bad for too long. But not enough to raise expectations too much.

Roll on a year and I didn’t give the Munster League a second thought or a second glance, bar having to deal with the in-laws from north Kerry. Now part of the reason for this disaffection was that the competition should never have been played in the first place, considering the year that’s in it. But there was also the fact that this winter I wasn’t looking for or clinging to any nugget of hope that I could find.

There’s also a bit of anxiety about where Cork really stand. Prior to the sending-off in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final they did seem to be taking control of the game. From where I was sitting at any rate. Would they have beaten Galway had they made it to the big show? You’d have to say probably not, but when you think of the goal chances that Galway coughed up and you consider that Cork probably have better forwards than Waterford you begin to wonder what might have been.

And there we go again.

Time for a telling revelation/cliché. Second seasons are often tougher than the first one. And expectations give you a lot more to worry about. As an example let’s think about the players who made the breakthrough last year; Meade, Coleman, Fitzgibbon and Kingston. Everyone knows who they are now and, in particular, Coleman and Fitzgibbon will be marked men. And that duo along with Kingston also have the strains of the Fitzgibbon Cup to deal with for the first time.

How will they all deal with that notoriously difficult second album? Nirvana gave us ‘Nevermind’ while The Stone Roses waited five years before finally delivering a ‘Second Coming’ that led to their disintegration and disappearance from the scene. Or to use an analogy from the movies, let’s hope that 2018 will bring us a ‘Godfather Part II’ and pray to the old gods and the new that we’re spared a ‘Taken II’, or a ‘Taken’ for that matter. As of now, you’d take something solid, some progress.

Then there’s the new format. As it was the panel needed to be strengthened for 2018 but the greater demands puts even more pressure on that aspect of the year. There is talent there and there’s definitely a sense that while the minors and U-21’s haven’t been winning All-Irelands, the minors probably should have won a couple. So the raw material could be there, and this weekend also sees seven Cork schools taking up twelve of the available spots in various Munster hurling competitions. But there’s serious talent elsewhere too.

Then there’s change. Change amidst expectation? Well that breeds anxiety. Everyone was disappointed when Kieran Kingston departed. And of his main men, only John Meyler remains and in the hot-seat at that. It’s a tough time to take over one of the most pressurised and high-profile jobs in the GAA.

The best way to help everyone forget about last year is winning a few matches this year and the new format could be of benefit to the new management team in light of that. The extra games dilute the immediate importance of winning and losing in comparison to knock-out Munster hurling championship. I think this year is all about securing Division 1A status in the league and making the quarter-finals of the championship before seeing who’s left standing then, both in terms of other counties and our own players.

But there are also times when change is welcome, as with the Cork footballers. Ronan McCarthy’s situation isn’t a million miles away from that of Kieran Kingston’s last year. Expectation is possibly at an all time low. Cork football supporters often reference ‘new lows’ and we’ve had plenty of them over the past couple of years. At least Peadar Healy got a performance from the team against Mayo last August. For having the courage to take a role he probably knew he wasn’t ready for, he deserved that at least.

Cork football then got a few boosts over the winter. St. Finbarr’s and Nemo delivered two good senior football finals before Nemo took down Dr. Croke’s in Munster and John Fintan Daly’s Knocknagree are heading for Croke Park. Ronan McCarthy also has a chance to take advantage of a new system with the Super 8’s and that stage of the championship is a very attainable goal for year one, as is promotion from Division 2. And the McGrath Cup is already in the bag!

So as ever the thoughts on the new year are full of hopes and fears, anxiety and expectation, the terror of underachieving and dreams of September. Sorry, August. More on that another time.

Roll on Saturday night. The new Páirc. LED lights. Tipp and Kilkenny. Head down and enjoy the evening. Two wins and we’ll all feel a bit better. For a week anyway.

John Coleman

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