Mullingar was a strange interlude to the year. A knock-out championship that had no bite, no atmosphere, no excitement and no sense of danger. And yet, it was historic as Cork managed to register forty points. Of course, this achievement is completely irrelevant in the greater scheme of things, just as the game was.
Numbers are becoming more and more important in the GAA. At the turn of the century, the only numbers that mattered were the score, the gate receipts, the attendance and how many medals you had jangling in your back-pocket when all was said and done.
Nowadays, it’s very different as every minute detail of the game is poured over and there’s much more focus on individual rewards and records as opposed to the only currency that really matters.
The statistical analysis that is carried out by all sides in the modern game is phenomenal. Between puck-outs, free-counts, tackles made, turnovers, distance traveled, hooks, blocks and harries, the amount of information available, the amount of information that’s there to process is scary. What’s important? What isn’t? What will we do with it?
A number that stood out even more than Cork’s forty points was the amount of re-starts across the seventy-plus minutes. There were eighty-nine puck-outs during the game, one every forty-seven seconds or so. As Cork were on their way to twenty-four first-half points, Westmeath ‘keeper Conor Lynch ran out of sliotars, leading us to observe that he literally couldn’t keep the ball pucked out. It summed up the surreal nature of the occasion.
The number eighty-nine also helped to measure one of the great immeasurables of hurling; intensity. A game with that many shots was obviously completely devoid of it.
The best example of it was how Cork approached Westmeath’s puck-outs in the first-half. They operated with two sweepers and Cork were happy to concede the short-puck out as opposed to pushing up on it. By letting Westmeath play it out repeatedly, Cork banked on them making mistakes that they would be able to pounce on. Which, after a while, they did.
When the error count grew, Westmeath pushed up, giving Cork more space and they proceeded to pick them off at will.
It also allowed Westmeath to shoot from distance often and while they scored twenty points and had as many wides, only five of their scores came from their inside line. Cork just did what they had to do; get a comfortable victory with minimal fuss and no injuries.
It really was an exercise in futility, a token gesture from the GAA to make it look like they’re interested in strengthening hurling and in expanding the game. An insult to a Westmeath team who had played the most important game of their year the week before.
But that’s just the GAA hierarchy at the moment, isn’t it? They give lip service to lots of things, half-answers and half-truths. They’re experts at answering the wrong questions, trying to solve the wrong problems and are utterly incapable of promoting all of the good work they do.
As I’ve said before, they’re chronically disconnected from the every day GAA. How else could you explain the moronic comments of the president, as he sneeringly insulted Cork people? Could you imagine Seán Kelly or Joe McDonagh saying it? I suppose every age gets the leader it deserves and, for some, life does just stop at the M50.
As much as anything else, they don’t know what they want to be. They preach of the founding intentions of the organisation, the amateur ethos, the importance of the club, while simultaneously mimicking professional sports, promoting elitism, burying their heads in the sand when it comes to the real problems facing the association. Was it ever thus?
It’s the GAA’s continuing myopia that brought us to Mullingar on Sunday. And while it was a lovely jaunt on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, what was it all for?
What good did it do Cork? None whatsoever. What did they learn? Nothing. What players stood out? It doesn’t matter. Should it have any influence on this Sunday? No. Was it worth travelling to? It’s always worth it to watch Patrick Horgan.
All in all, the day was a time to look at what is past, or passing, or to come. The places we’ve been, the games we’ve seen, the people we’ve traveled with, the glory, the grief, the memories, the hopes, the fears, the anguish, the joy, the desperation; the questions.
Who are the leaders in the team? Are they strong enough? Who’ll mark TJ Reid? Who’ll start in the forward line? Who’ll start in the back-line? Will they be able to keep a clean sheet? Will the forwards do enough to help them? Will we catch a few breaks? And, hanging over us all of the time, how will Saturday evening go? What would you take? How much have they improved? What if…..
This weekend sees us all return to God’s holy fire in Croker to find some answers. We haven’t found the answers we’d like to get there, in either code, since 2013, haven’t beaten Kilkenny there since 2004, the hurlers have only won there twice this decade and have lost there six times.
Contrary to what officialdom may believe, plenty of Cork people will travel to both, hoping for the right answers, hoping to find a few things to make us smile, and hoping to make summer last another few weeks.