It’s been a dismal, deflating and depressing few weeks as the hope of the league has given way to the grim, startling realities of championship hurling.
The promise of last year, as Cork finally satiated their underage All-Ireland drought, winning three in the space of a few weeks, and reached the senior final, has all but evaporated as we find ourselves, dare I say it, in grave danger of reverting to normal in this post pandemic world as humiliating defeats, disjointed performances, and porous defending are all back in fashion.
The chastening experiences of the last six weeks is achingly familiar as the likelihood of our greatest ever hunger extending into another year becomes all the more likely by the minute. We’ve seen bad times before, of course, but there has been something particularly galling about this current malaise.
What makes the present situation so frustrating is that we’re meant to have emerging talent. We’re meant to have structures in place. It’s meant to be getting better. But it isn’t. Not consistently, anyway.
It is utterly flabbergasting how the same fundamental flaws in Cork hurling remain perennially unaddressed. We all know what they are, and we’ve seen them in all of their glory, at all levels, over the past six weeks.
It’s so hard to account for the lack of edge to Cork’s play, and from the individuality of their defending to the paucity of their physical imposition and the continuous efforts to fit square pegs into round holes, something just seems fundamentally askew with the soul of Cork hurling, from top to bottom.
We are continuously out thought and out fought and can’t seem to consistently be able to deal with the physical demands of the modern game in terms of both attitude and performance. Cork still manages to concede massive scores that make games unwinnable on a consistent basis.
They give up far too many unopposed opportunities to other teams and get punished accordingly. Too often we find ourselves appealing to the referee for protection as we get bullied off the ball and we never ever seem to be able to emerge form a ruck with possession. The more things have changed, the more we’ve remained the same.
If you were of an optimistic disposition, you might have found comfort in the fact that we only lost to Clare by two points in Thurles a fortnight ago. You might even have been angry over the two ‘65s that weren’t and the awful handpass decision that went against Tommy O’Connell.
You would, however, also be delusional. It was a two-point hammering. Cork conceded an incredible SEVENTEEN points in 35 minutes of hurling, and it should have been more as Clare hit eight wides. They conspired to lose the middle twenty minutes of the first half by 0-10 to 0-1. When Clare was reduced to fourteen men and Cork narrowed the gap to four, they managed to find a way to concede the next three points. It is completely untenable.
And still, for all of the damning diatribe above, all is not quite lost, yet.
Call me mad. Call me cloistered. Call me snobby. Call me a dinosaur. Call me delusional. Or just call me downright stupid, but Cork should never fear anybody, and thus, they shouldn’t fear travelling to Walsh Park this weekend.
Of course, ‘should’ is the pivotal word of the previous paragraph. All things being equal, Cork should be a lot of things. However, I think it’s fair to say that we are none of those things at this particular moment in time.
The beauty of this new Round Robin system in Munster is, despite the utter flaccidity of Cork’s opening two performances, that there is still a reasonable chance of Cork floundering their way out of Munster.
Should they achieve the improbable on Sunday afternoon, the championship will be blown wide open. Bear with me here for a moment. Cork could be level with Waterford come 4pm, with an edge on the head-to-head, and with Waterford still having to travel to Cusack Park, and with us and Tipperary having first-hand experience of how a joust with Clare could potentially go, all hope is not yet lost.
All this desperate yearning is built on an assumption that Cork simply can’t be this bad. They can’t have regressed so much, so quickly. There simply must be some sort of rage building inside of them after the tumult of the past few weeks. Surely, we’ll see some sort of a reaction on Sunday.
Playing with rage has always been a part of championship hurling. However, relying on it will only get you so far. See Clare in 1999, for example. But as a once off, it still has a place in Walsh Park this weekend.
There’s every chance that it could end up like Tipp last week, that Cork could give us a performance only to get caught down the stretch, but better that then another 70 minutes of staring into the blackhole without any new revelations. Because there really is only so much that supporters can take and our craving for something better currently has us putting far too much pressure on the next generations.
Truth be told, the greater hurling world is revelling in our ineptitude, and the sooner we all take a bit more umbrage with that, the better.