The Christmas List
Slán leat 2020, the year that wasn’t. Another year that wasn’t, another year in the wilderness, another year of disappointment, another year of suffering through the new normal of being a Cork GAA supporter; crippling disappointment.
The global pandemic gave us plenty of time to reflect on everything. Amidst the angst there was ample opportunity to hark back to better days, as the past played on a continuous loop to take our minds off the present. But there wasn’t even any real solace in that, as it only gave us the opportunity to look upon past works, and despair.
From a hurling perspective, the gap between league and championship briefly allowed us to forget all about what we didn’t like about the spring as we convinced ourselves that a reasonably old-fashioned championship structure coupled with a seemingly handy draw gave us a genuine chance of mushrooming.
The feeling lasted for about twenty minutes before events slalomed towards their inevitable, excruciating conclusion.
As for the big ball, the vagaries of 136 years’ worth of Cork football were encapsulated in a feckless fortnight.
And yet, on Christmas week, there’s still a sliver of a chance of salvation down the Páirc tonight.
It is sad that, once again, we find ourselves putting far too much energy into the performances of young men who we long to see turn the tide. Such is the desperation for any signs of life on Leeside, we cling onto the hope that the next batch of minors or U-20’s will be the ones who finally break us free from the shackles of mediocrity that have consumed the county over the past fifteen years.
Ho. Ho. Ho.
Nonetheless, without hope, we’ve nothing at all and considering it asks not a crumb of us, here are a few hopes, inspired by fears, for 2021.
The Bare Necessities
Simply put, there have been far too many capitulations over the past decade. There have been far too many Johnny Glynn moments. When players put in the effort that they do, it is difficult to question their commitment. However, it boggles the mind how often the fundamentals (work, aggression, physicality) of the game are at best lacking or at worst, totally absent.
It’s reasonable to expect that every time a Cork team takes the field that the minimum should be a given, that a performance can be guaranteed. Once that’s there, let the best team win. It has become a fear before games that you really don’t know what Cork team is going to turn up. It has to change, starting in…
The National League
Many of the hurling campaigns in the National League have been unacceptable in recent years. I don’t know why as Cork have no right to be snobby about what they focus on. If the 21st century has thought us anything in GAA, it’s that the league seldom lies. As the GAA’s amateur ethos continues to follow professional trends, the process becomes everything.
Performances aren’t like a tap that can be turned on or off as appropriate. All games must be treated equal even if some are more equal than others. The league matters. Treat it as such.
As frustrating as all facets of Cork’s decline have been, being consistently and comprehensively out-thought has been as bad as any. As I’ve said before, the same old rusty knife continues to flay aimlessly against far more precise machinery.
Cork used to be cute, they used to innovate but now they’re predictable. That needs to change too and to do so the modern game needs to be embraced before it can be enhanced. While we’re at, can ‘Corkness’ be removed from the lexicon immediately?
‘Corkness’ is clinging (desperately) on to an abstract concept that is derived from a faux confidence in past glories as there’s absolutely nothing tangible to believe in. It was also brought into vogue by the great Tipp man, Larry Ryan. Identity needs to be forged, not imagined.
Do the Right Thing
It’s been a long-held view, even if only meant in an sardonic way, that it can be harder to play yourself off the Cork team than onto it. The surgery on the hurling panel has begun but going forward, no player should ever be too comfortable in their shoes. Performances need to be valued above reputations.
We don’t have to look too far for a prime example. Fergal Ryan’s decision to let John Cashman and Tadhg Deasy on the bench after their return from holidays all the way up to the county final was a courageous that was ultimately vindicated.
It might have suited him to have two quality players on the bench, but the pressure must have been enormous. However, I get the feeling that Ryan rested easily as in terms of his group, he did the right thing, even though it was the difficult thing.
To be fair to Kieran Kingston, in 2017 he made some big calls and it’s time to do so again.
Climbing the Ladder
Mark Keane gave us the highlight of the year against Kerry. It was a beautiful moment that will stick with us, despite what happened afterwards. And even in relation to the Tipp game, it wasn’t that much of a surprise. Cork football will continue to be defined by Kerry until we give them the same respect that they give us.
In the greater scheme of things, however, Cork’s promotion from Division 3 was much more significant. Going into 2021, the league is still the priority. Cork should always be a Division 1 team. Always.
Promotion would return Cork to base camp while the backdoor means that the inevitable Kerry backlash doesn’t have to be terminal. From there they can begin to push for the summit again.
It was a genuine privilege to be able to cover so many games in this years’ club championship for the Irish Examiner and The Echo. The new format, though obviously tough on the dual clubs, was fantastic as every game mattered and every player got to test themselves across three meaningful games played at regular intervals. That can only improve the standard across the boards in Cork.
I just hope we all get to see it next year, that we all get to hear the roar of the crowd, that we all get a chance to enjoy it, give out about it, argue about it, and cherish it.
It’s not asking for much, is it?
Though a bit of luck wouldn’t go astray either, a EuroMillions jackpot, even. And a few All-Irelands. And a county for Ballinhassig, obviously.
The very best of luck to the U-20s tonight, and to everyone involved in Cork GAA in 2021.
Nollaig shona dhaoibh go léir.