Double Jeopardy

The great Declan Lynch has a famous adage that goes along the lines of “you should never not watch a football match.” It’s a truth that speaks to our inner anxieties about missing out on things, FOMO in the modern parlance. Even the most dreary of fixtures can provide moments of illumination or lashings of the absurd in our eternal search for meaning.

When you narrow down your scope of interest to the teams closest to your heart, that desire to watch, that desire to see things for yourself becomes even more palpable. We all live in our own truth, our own version of reality and while trips to meaningless games in Birr or Bruff may appear psychotic to anybody not affected by the addiction of fandom, for those of us cursed by it, it feels like the most natural thing in the world.

Those endless days on the road to nowhere build resilience and character as the same conversation that you’ve had a thousand times somehow remains fresh and relevant because things are always in a state of flux. Just when you think one issue is solved, another appears and before you know it you’re back to where you began, kind of like the National Hurling League.

At the moment, if we’re to be completely honest about it, Lynch’s maxim could not be applied to the National Hurling League. There are only two national titles to be won in hurling and football, but the secondary competition has been completely devalued by the rejigged provincial championships, a squeezed calendar and the complete lack of jeopardy that exists for the elite teams.

For Limerick, Cork, Clare, Tipperary, Waterford, Kilkenny, Galway, Wexford and Dublin, the chances of being relegated under the current format are about as remote as the chances of hell freezing over and with the short hop from league to championship it’s impossible to read anything into, well, anything.

One of the best things about hurling is that even at its most turgid, it can still excite and delight, but the best thing that you could say about yesterday’s game against Westmeath is that it happened. The result was pretty much preordained and though Westmeath played extremely well, they were never looked capable of being anything beyond competitive.

For Cork it was a Catch 22 scenario as if they won by too much it was irrelevant and if they won by too little same old questions would have come to the fore. As it turns out, they just about fell in between those two particular zones and while Pat Ryan was obviously disappointed by the performance, chances are that he had his own metrics to judge the game by.

Hard work would certainly have been one of those and while he again referenced it in the aftermath, the game did fall at a strange time for Cork being two weeks on from the win in Salthill and two weeks out from the next game against Wexford. With the intervarsity competitions now over, I’m sure that Cork are in the middle a heavy schedule that we’re not privy to. There were also plenty of debutants and it shouldn’t be forgotten what a nervous experience that can be, especially when it’s against a team that you’re expected to dismiss without too much fuss.

The bigger picture wasn’t overly altered by the game as Cork got some more new players onto the pitch, welcomed back one or two and are still awaiting the return of a few, as a possible starting fifteen for the championship opener against Waterford remains a mystery wrapped inside on an enigma. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Of course, the football league is a completely different animal precisely because of the levels of jeopardy within it. There’s just so much to play for, including your championship future. This meant that the football game was by far and away the more important game of the day, and the by far the more enjoyable one to boot. We all wanted Cork to deliver three coherent performances in-a-row, and there was something deeply fulfilling about them delivering it in style.

Cork looked very focussed before the game and it was clear that they understood the significance of what lay ahead of them, understood that these were the type of games that have often been far more difficult than they should have been in the past. There was so much to like about the performance, even allowing for the paucity of the Limerick challenge.

When they were faced with a mass defence they showed the patience necessary to await the opportune time to penetrate it and when they broke they did so with purpose and pace while also being willing to kick the ball. They kicked 6-15 from play and utterly dominated every aspect of the game.

Ian Maguire and Colm O’Callaghan’s midfield partnership continues to impress, the defence that leaked three goals against Meath has responded with three clean sheets, Chris Óg Jones gave a further example of his potential and Conor Corbett got a chance to fill his boots. Whereas the hurlers are a long way from knowing their championship fifteen, the footballers have been more consistent in their selections, because they have to be with so much at stake, and there’s just so much at stake when they cross the Shannon next weekend.

That game was in everyone’s mind as the clock wound down yesterday, but it was important to just enjoy the day for what it was too. The brightness of the evening warned us that the bigger examinations will be soon upon us, yet the bitter wind reminded us that there’s still ample time to prepare for them.

John Coleman

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