Hurling in the Paradox

I’ve always had a soft spot for Anthony Daly. It mainly stems from the free he took in the 1995 All-Ireland final. He walked out past Seánie McMahon and just seized the moment. To have the belief to try that, to do that, is just phenomenal. Leadership can be a tough line to traverse on occasion, you can try too hard or leave it to chance too much. Daly always strikes me as a guy who always knows how to walk that line.

It’s something he’s carried into management too, and he had the courage and belief to take on the Clare job when he would still be dealing with a lot of guys he had played with. He also commands great loyalty and affection from those he has worked with. When’s the last time you heard a disparaging remark about him?

Importantly, he also has the ability not take himself too seriously. In today’s Irish Examiner he could laugh at the assertion that some of the violent terminology he uses in his analysis can, to borrow from the late, great Frank Kelly “make the Battle of the Somme seem like Wanderly Wagon”. But you always know that there’s much more to him than reducing everything to war, he just doesn’t show us.

Of course, he doesn’t really like Cork. There are probably valid reasons for this, the All-Ireland semi-finals of 2005 and 2013 in particular. I’d imagine he’s not overly fond of Tipp and Kilkenny either. But that’s why he was and is so successful as a player and manager, his refusal to give in to the old status-quo, his determination to challenge and change tradition. And you have to respect that.

But what does all this have to do with the Waterford game? Well, it’s something that Daly alluded to last week, something Clare overheard Nicky English saying about what the right thing to do with a wounded animal is. My own instinct would be to try to save it, if possible, but for obvious reasons I’ve never been involved in the Munster hurling championship, where the right thing to do is to put it out of its misery. Always.

Which brings us, finally, to Cork. Because, believe it or not, Cork are still in the championship. You wouldn’t know it if you were only following things through the mainstream. It’s all about Clare’s freedom of expression, Limerick being a bona fide contender, Waterford’s woes, Tipp’s absorbing if unsuccessful odyssey, Galway being Galway, Kilkenny being Kilkenny and Davy being, well, Davy.

Cork have had a very good championship to date. It hasn’t been perfect, but on the whole it’s been positive. And there seems to be a definite progression from last year. And they’re unbeaten. And they should qualify for the Munster final. Again.

But when they beat Clare it was all about Clare misfiring, the Tipp draw was about Tipp’s resilience and the Limerick draw was about Limerick’s coming of age. Nothing about the fact that Cork gave it back to them as much as Limerick and Tipp earned it. Which is obviously a problem in itself, but still. And in the Limerick game Cork looked finished with ten to go, but managed to dig their way out of it. That hasn’t always been the case.

It’s even extended to the crowds going to the games. The cauldron of Ennis and the white heat of the Gaelic Grounds have taken on a mythical status that belies the actual attendances. But there’s been very little acknowledgement of the fact that Cork’s three games have attracted over 80,000 to them to date.

There won’t be a huge crowd in Thurles though, and in Thurles Cork will be hurling in a paradox. No matter what they do, they will be damned. Win comfortably and they’ll only be doing what’s expected. Waterford, after all, are out of the championship, playing their fourth game in twenty-one days and have been deserted by lady luck in every possible sense over those twenty-one days.

A loss, a draw or a narrow victory will see Cork being written off as inconsistent and lacking something. But even that will be an afterthought as the aftermath will be dominated by the future intentions of Derek McGrath, the glittering legacy of the great Michael Walsh and, more than anything else, events in Ennis.

So what are Cork to do?

As ever, they need a performance. Something like the first-half against Tipperary would be ideal. They need to be tuned in from the start and let Waterford know early that there will be no bitter-sweet-fairy-tale ending for the Brick or Derek McGrath. Much like they did in the relegation play-off at the end of the league. They need to take Nicky English’s advice. And hope it turns out better than it did for Nicky!

Waterford have given Cork enough problems over the past few years to ensure that nothing will be taken for granted in Thurles. If Cork are to make the Munster final, as they should, it would be nice to do so with the minimum of fuss. They’ll get faint praise for it, but I suppose that’s a compliment in itself.

Still, it would be nice to remind everyone that Cork haven’t gone away.

John Coleman

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