It’s what it’s all about really; time and space. It’s what every player craves because when any player is afforded time and space, well, then they have the freedom to play, the freedom to express themselves and the opportunity to really hurt the opposition.
Performing under pressure, however, is another thing entirely. Being able to carry out the basics at speed, under ferocious tackling and in tight spaces is what separates good players from very good players. The great players then, are those who marry their performance under physical duress with their ability to embrace the pressure of the occasion.
You know who they are, they’re the people who actively seek out possession when the need is greatest, they’re the type of goalkeeper who wants that difficult ball in the last minute, they’re the players who attack the ball when fear dictates otherwise – they’re the players who thrive as those around them freeze.
But for all that pressure, everybody needs a bit of time and space sometimes, and Cork definitely needed it after their opening day trip to Walsh Park in the first round of the NHL.
Of course, had Shane Kingston’s last-minute effort secured a draw at the end, Cork would have had a bit of space to breath. But it didn’t, and so Cork went into the game against Tipp two and bit weeks ago under a bit of pressure.
It wasn’t the type of pressure that would define a team, a player or a management but it was there, nonetheless.
And that’s what made the win satisfying. Obviously, this wasn’t the Tipp that annexed last year’s All-Ireland, or the one that knocked Cork on its arse down the Páirc in the first round of last year’s Munster round-robin; it wasn’t even the one that eviscerated Cork in the league in Páirc Uí Rinn, but it was still Tipp. Cork and Tipp should always mean something.
Cork conceded a point more than they did against Waterford, but that seems forgivable against Tipp, even if there was no Callanan, McGrath or Bubbles from the start. Their finishing was also better than it was down in Walsh Park though they still left a few easy ones behind them.
However, the most satisfying part of the performance was the bite, or the intensity, or the work-rate or whatever you want to call it. All of those things really amount to something simple anyway; trying to deny the opposition time and space. It didn’t work all of the time on the night, and there were plenty of mistakes, particularly while in possession, to mull over, but there was enough there to merit the victory.
The thing with the league is that it’s only league when you’re winning. So, just as the loss in Waterford became a potential crisis, the win against Tipperary on a Saturday night was well forgotten by Monday morning. And rightly so, too.
The most important thing about the victory was that it gave Cork, you’ve guessed it, a bit of time and space.
Cork’s student contingent was able to focus on their Fitzgibbon duties and when that competition came to a glorious crescendo last week, the prospect of Westmeath away meant that they could be afforded a well-deserved break, for the most part.
As for what happened in Mullingar, I suppose it further backs up the point that it’s only the league when you’re winning. Cork won, but the margin of victory would have raised a few eyebrows momentarily.
If you’re of a pessimistic disposition you probably spent the last week howling at the moon and if you’re of an optimistic persuasion you just chalked it down as two points in the bag and moved on pretty quickly.
Which brings us to Limerick. It always seems to be about Limerick these days. In Kieran Kingston’s last year in charge it was Limerick who put an end to Cork’s last acceptable league campaign in Páirc Uí Rinn. The next year it was the draw down the Páirc and the nightmare in Croker. Last year there were two wins at the Gaelic Grounds that, with the benefit of hindsight, papered over the cracks that eventually saw the year fizzle out.
There’s only one certainty about tomorrow’s encounter. That is whether Cork win, lose or draw; it’s still going to be all about Limerick afterwards. Because the clash on May 10th is the one that’s going to matter. The one that won’t be forgotten about on May 11th.
Everybody knows what Limerick will bring tomorrow because they bring it every day that they play. When they’re in full flow they’re a relentless juggernaut that still have the propensity to leave too many scores behind them. The day is coming when all those scores will go over and that they will really embarrass a good team.
Hopefully that will not be tomorrow. Cork are still looking for solidity in the back line, and it’s clear that finding the right blend in the half-back is a matter of particular urgency. Bill Cooper starts there again tomorrow. It’s good that Kyle Hayes will be lining out opposite him.
There’s lots of other little trials going on and there will be plenty of errors too, but, as ever, it’s the performance that matters.
A win would lighten the step for another week, but whatever the result, take a bit of time before coming to any definite conclusions.