Is it really that time of year again?
The time to park all doubts, take off all the bandages, forget about all the hurt, to let go of all the pain; the time to feel positive, to feel energised, to hope and to wonder; the time to look forward and to imagine what dreams may come.
But it’s very hard to think like that because there’s just so much going on. Fitzgibbon cup, Sigerson cup, Harty cup, Corn Uí Mhúirí, MacRory cup, McGrath cup, Walsh cup, O’Byrne cup, McKenna cup, the John Kerins’ trophy, Trench cup, probably even a few cases of trench foot.
Then there’s U-20, national leagues, All-Ireland club finals, county leagues, AFL combines, advanced marks, sinbins, retirements, omissions, nominations, massive levels of debt, fall-outs, fall-ins… And it’s still only January. J-a-n-u-a-r-y.
This is what the festering turd that is the GAA’s fixture calendar does to you. It leaves you flabbergasted; overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of what’s happening concurrently as much as by the utter, brainless, insanity of it all.
Only the smartest people in the room would look at the busiest time of the year and decide to make it busier. Because you would have to be locked in a room, or dare I say it, a tower, not to envisage the organised chaos that has been unleashed.
Of course, something will have to give, eventually. Someday, someone will have an epiphany and realise that it might be a better idea to try and protect players as opposed to flagellating them, publicly.
Perhaps that same oracle will realise that no competition exists in isolation, that everything is interconnected, that amateur players do not equate to professional athletes, that there are only so many games that you can go to, never mind play in, that hurling is a summer sport and that football isn’t Aussie Rules. They might even remember that there’s a club scene there too.
As we await the arrival and inevitable dismissal of that particular prophet, there’s nothing to do except to focus on where we are. Because that’s where we are, with it being election time and all. Shur look (it).
And, based on last year, despite the changes made over the winter, Cork are a long way from anywhere at the moment.
With that in mind, the opening weekend of action in the Allianz leagues was more a case of black holes than revelations. With that little thing called life taking over, I didn’t get to see either game in the flesh, but there was nothing overly surprising about Saturday or Sunday.
The footballers took a while before they did what they should always do to Offaly in their first outing in Division 3 in my lifetime. They made hard work of it for thirty-five minutes, but there’s nothing new there either.
In general, the opening weekend couldn’t have gone better for the footballers. Two points on the board while two of their biggest rivals for promotion, Derry and Down, dropped points. It got me thinking that maybe for the first time in a long time, fortune might look at Cork a bit more favourably.
Arguably, their two toughest games in their attempt to crawl out of the black hole of division 3 will be against the aforementioned Down and Derry, and both of those games will be at home. Indeed, four of their first six games are down the Páirc (more on all of that at a later date).
What that all means is that there’s no excuses to fall back on for the footballers should they not emerge from the lower echelons of the league. The re-jigging of the championship has surely sharpened their minds too; this league campaign is the most important one they’ve faced in a long time.
Last year gave us good performances without any significant victories while the double All-Ireland success of the U-20s and the U-17s helped to reinvigorate Cork football. Now it’s time to make those performances a given, and to marry them to results, starting in Carrick-in-Shannon.
What happened in Walsh Park has become the norm for Cork hurling during the league. There have been just too many performances that have had to be excused on the basis of the time of year, the conditions or whatever you want to call it.
I’m thinking Waterford and Wexford two years ago, Tipp and Wexford last year, Dublin back in 2017 and the entirety of the 2016 campaign. The Tipp game last year was a particularly sore one, a home game that was just given away without much thought.
The soundbites coming out of the squad in the lead up to the game were full of self-awareness. Everybody knows what Cork need to improve on and even though the idea of defending from the front is hardly revolutionary it’s time, much like the footballers, to just go and do it, no more excuses.
Of course, there was the mitigating factor of the number of players tied up with the Fitzgibbon cup (see flagellation of players). The question is, however, when you’re conceding 1-27 to a Waterford team that isn’t yet sprinkled with stardust, is it time to dismiss it because it’s only January? Or to be really worried because it’s only January?
There’s Fitz games again this week, then February comes around with the visit of Tipp on Saturday evening. It would be a good time to fall back in love with the art of defending.
By John Coleman