So here we have it. Cork and Clare in the Munster Final. Again. It’s fitting, really, as both teams have probably defined each other across the last six seasons in league and championship. Cork’s record in the championship has been excellent too. Seven games, five wins, one draw and just the one loss. In an All-Ireland final.
I suppose we should mention Brian Gavin while discussing this run of results. However, he’s been too busy downing pints with Kilkenny hurlers, running Offaly GAA from the media box and criticising other referees from the parapet to remember that to err is human. To forgive? Only Ring would be divine enough to make a call on that.
But one thing that Gavin did manage to achieve by failing to blow his whistle when the time was up that day, was to feed the narrative. I mean, that Clare team was a dream for the narrative. A young, talented and committed bunch that were set free from the shackles of Davy’s dark system in Croke Park. They expressed themselves, as people keep telling us. And now they’re doing it again.
They’ve been set free from the tyranny of tactics and are ready for their second coming, ready to fulfill that potential that flickered briefly in 2013 all over again. It’s the perfect narrative, a great story to get behind, to buy into. Romanticism in a summer of never ending sunshine.
Cork? Cork don’t fit the narrative. Cork are like one of those emblems of authority that people love seeing fall. Everyone enjoyed throwing Cork a few words of false sympathy when things were at a low ebb. They just about hid the smirks on their faces when they were telling us that “hurling needs Cork”.
And last year, when we decided to get our act together, they managed to spit it out that it was “great to see Cork back.” Of course, what they really meant was that it’s great to see Cork back once they don’t get any notions about actually winning anything.
The narrative puts the individual ahead of what the real goal should be. It defines Pat Spillane by his All-Stars instead of his All-Ireland medals, it relishes in giving Waterford two hurler of the year nominations in a year where Galway won everything that mattered in style, it encourages a well known journalist to start fussing about individual accolades before the real business of the season has even kicked-off and proclaims Limerick to be the biggest challengers to Galway. Until they lose to Clare, leaving their neighbours to pick up the mantle instead.
This weekend it will delight in focussing on the ‘Clare shout’ and the throngs of banner men and women who have made the pilgrimage to Thurles, but will never ask where they were last year. Make no mistake about it, it craves a Clare victory tomorrow. Is there anything that Cork can do to stop it?
Well, the first thing that they will have to improve on is their shooting. It simply was not good enough against Tipp, Limerick and Waterford. Handy scores were put wide and the return of the ‘crazy shot that was never on’ was most unwelcome. If Cork’s shooting is at the level it was against Waterford, in particular, then, as Hamlet put it, “dog will have its day”.
They’ll also have to stop giving presents to the opposition. Stray passes across the back, the odd loose puck-out, the occasional mis-controls and the momentary lapses in concentration all need to be eliminated.
They also need to keep the pace of the game up. When the pace has been slow, Cork have been prone to dithering and making mistakes while they have been at their best when they have done everything with speed and conviction. It is admirable how they stick to the process, no matter what, but there will be times tomorrow when the process may have to be forsaken for the sake of getting the ball into the forwards that bit quicker.
Cork are by no means the finished article. Indeed some of the problems we have, such as winning primary possession across the half-forward line, are on the verge of becoming perennial. This in turn puts an awful strain on Anthony Nash‘s puck-outs. You’d always be a small bit worried about the centre of the defence. But Corcorans and Currans don’t grow on trees. There are flaws there. But, believe it or not, Clare have them too. Their defence is just as vulnerable as Cork’s.
What Cork have shown across the Munster championship this year is great resilience and an ability to go north of 1-20 or so in every game. They topped the group without ever reaching the heights that they are capable of. Without ever really expressing themselves. They just got the job done. Now we’re into phase two of the saga, they’ll need to raise it beyond the functional because the direct route to August is the best one.
Munster Final day wouldn’t be the same without some nostalgia and it was interesting to read Seamus Durack reminiscing about the Munster Finals of 1977 and 1978 in the Irish Examiner recently. There was a palpable pain to both his memories and his regrets from the two occasions. Clare will beat Cork again some day soon. If it happens tomorrow, it won’t be the end of the world. But wouldn’t it be much better to play the Bogeyman again? To break the narrative?