Prior to Saturday night, I briefly mentioned how league finals have brought us nothing but disappointment since 1998, each one different in its own way. The events that transpired on Saturday evening conspired to create an entirely new form of disillusionment.
A disillusionment that necessitates further elaboration on long standing flaws that still return to haunt Cork again and again and again. The principle one of those being how easily they are opened up through the middle. Carved open through the middle. Blown open through the middle. Moses. Red Sea. Hot knife. Butter. You get the idea. There’s been ten years of it now.
This problem was encapsulated in the concession of the third goal on Saturday. Ciarán Joyce, a young defender who is already essential to Cork’s present and future, being beaten to a high ball by an experienced, grizzled forward like Stephen Bennet fifty odd yards from goal shouldn’t be the disaster it turned out to be. He’s fifty yards from goal. It’s not a one-on-one. And yet.
In Brian Friel’s masterpiece, Translations, the schoolmaster Hugh tells us that “to remember everything is a form of madness.” An ability to forget mistakes and move on is as essential skill to sport as it is to life. But there’s a balance to be struck between moping over the past and ploughing on into the future, regardless.
Perhaps it is madness that Saturday night brought flashbacks of the myriad of similar goals that Cork have conceded since that original Johnny Glynn moment. Perhaps it is all borne out of a grief over what has happened and a chronic desperation for it to change. But it is fair to say that Saturday night raised a lot of questions that need to be answered, quickly.
For instance, why was there so much space between Cork’s full and half back lines, again?
One might have assumed, that the purpose of playing Ger Millerick in midfield was to give Mark Coleman the freedom to drop back and cover the full-back line so as to be able to launch counter attacks for Cork.
That didn’t happen enough in the first half as Cork’s half-back line was dragged up the field leaving them wide open for the first two goals. Couple that with two of the full-forward line dropping out and you’d a situation where Cork had too many players around the middle and not enough close to both goals.
Another question is why was Joyce, who has been a revelation in his outings in the half-back line and midfield, placed at corner back on Saturday? And left there. Then there was the lack of change in the defensive sestet and the continuous surrendering of the Waterford puckout.
If you’re of an optimistic disposition, you might find some consolation in some cold hard stats. Cork and Waterford both scored twenty-four times, they both scored fourteen times from play and nine times from frees. You might also fall back on Cork’s poor early misses that scuppered them from taking the early initiative.
Had they been four points up, for example, that first goal mightn’t have felt like the fatal blow it was. You might also wonder why Cork’s pace seemed to desert them and open your mind to the possibility of some type of heavy training conspiracy theory. Before quickly dragging yourself back to reality.
One certainty that came out of the evening was that Liam Cahill has the Indian sign over Cork and knows exactly how to beat them. It feels like he understands us better than we understand ourselves as he is evidently more away of our flaws than we are.
Cahill and Mikey Bevans greatest attribute seems to be getting the absolute best out of what they have and have improved every one of their players while the heart of their defence never looked like it was going to concede the goals Cork needed to really drag themselves back into it.
I also mentioned before the game how the value of the league win in 1998 wasn’t fully appreciated until after the event. When Clare ran over Cork in the championship later that summer, the league was a source of comfort to fall back on, a sign of progress when the nights closed in, something concrete to build on in the year ahead.
Cork now lacks the cushion of that type of concrete in the weeks ahead. As ever, Limerick loom large on the horizon, there’s a trip to Walsh Park while both Tipp and Clare will have seen enough on Saturday evening to be looking forward to their respective dates in Thurles with renewed vigour.
Cork have put all of their eggs in the Easter basket. Now it’s time to wait and see what type of rabbit they can pull out of the hat.