Standing on Albert Quay, watching the world go by as I awaited the arrival of my brother, it was hard not to be enchanted by the streams of young people decked out in red heading down towards the Páirc.
It was hard not to let the mind drift too, hard not to ponder about the nature of them; about what they’ve seen and more pertinently, what they haven’t seen. It was equally hard not to be angry about what they should have seen while still desperately hoping for them to be able to dare to dream. That ache for success, real success, becomes more palpable by the year and Ger Gilroy, of all people, captured what many of us may think but are afraid to say after Cork had beaten Limerick in the Munster U20 championship last Friday night.
That win was Cork’s second time coming away with the spoils from the Gaelic Grounds last week and while no trophies were handed out, each little victory like that marks a small step on the road back to respectability, initially, and, hopefully, at some point, atonement.
Underage hurling has undoubtedly improved on Leeside, starting with a few Munster titles that were diminished by what happened in the All-Ireland series before three majors arrived within a few weeks back in 2021. As I’ve said before though, for Cork to be truly able to reclaim her rightful place back amongst the hurling notables of the world, she needs to be competing at the business end of all of those championships regularly, like she used to do.
The minors’ win was all the more impressive as it came off the back of a tough loss to Clare while the U20 win felt strangely good because it wasn’t needed. It is true that the nature of the Round Robin system should suit Cork at underage level because of its size and its prominence, but we all know the way it’s been.
The same should apply to our senior team, of course, but again, we all know the way it’s been.
That knowledge tempers or expectations as much as it fuels our anxiety and it wasn’t like there wasn’t enough to be apprehensive about prior to the game; injuries, form, lack of time together, Waterford’s performance against Limerick, the mythical genius of hurling’s answer to Rasputin. However, as things turned out, there was nothing to be worried about at all as Cork folk enjoyed their first lark by the Lee in quite the while.
The last time Cork enjoyed such an occasion lacking in tension was probably the last time that Waterford came to town in 2019. While that was a comfortable 2-30 to 2-17 win against a team that had nothing to play for, there was still an ease to the way that Waterford kept the scoreboard ticking over that suggested that things weren’t going to end well. And they didn’t.
That was then though, and this is now, and despite the many positives that Cork can take out of Sunday, the result carries an asterisk due to the paucity of Waterford’s display. Cork did, of course, do plenty right. They played with aggression, they played as a team, the played with pace, they defended in numbers and at times they moved the ball fantastically. In general, there was a professionalism to the performance that was welcome.
Patrick Horgan moved like a debutant, Brian Roche seemed to be in the middle of everything, Darragh Fitzgibbon was effervescent, Robert Downey spectacular while the return of Robbie O’Flynn to the fray was perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the day. Hooks and blocks, tackling and pressing and a disdain for the opposition having the temerity to take possession have long been lacking in Cork’s play but there was a ferocious appetite for small things like these, throughout.
When Waterford finally did come with a mini-rally after the interval, it was dismissed without a hint of panic, but we still know that the performance was far from perfect, and we all know the quantity of goal chances conceded was concerning, especially with the shadow of this Saturday night looming large.
Those threats to Patrick Collins’ goal did all come in the second half, as Waterford’s cause veered towards desperation, and Cork’s thoughts drifted to the bigger days that lie ahead, yet it was still baffling how the Déise didn’t seem desperate enough about anything to genuinely try and press Cork into more mistakes. Thus one could disregard those goal opportunities as the flaying swings of a punch-drunk boxer, but to do so would be naïve, silly and wilfully obtuse.
It was, however, Cork’s first day out, and it was a good one. There’s plenty to work on, but there should be plenty in the tank too and ultimately Waterford’s woes are not of concern to, or the fault of Cork.
Tipperary, of course, are of far greater concern. They scored five goals in Ennis, Cork allowed five shots on their goal on Sunday. That being said, three of those goals were gifts that Clare will most likely never bestow on anyone ever again. But Tipp will hunt for goals, remorselessly, and if Cork are to take another step towards securing safe passage from Munster, they will need to blunt the much vaunted Tipp attack that still dances to the sweet music of McGrath, Morris and Forde.
The epic battles of Clare and Limerick are, correctly, getting all of the plaudits these days, but Cork and Tipp will always be the most fabled Munster rivalry of them all even if it has been quite a while since it mattered as much as it should do.
Ring told us that the GAA is only half dressed without Tipperary, and after a brief sabbatical, Liam Cahill has his home county walking easily in their proud old robes again. Nobody in Cork needs any reminding of the hex that Cahill has over us either. Let us just hope that Saturday night will be an example of an occasion where to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
2 thoughts on “Lark by the Lee”
Your thoughtful writing is part of my pre-match reading and post-match evaluation every time the Blood and Bandage take the field.
Hi Donnchadh, you’re very kind, thank you, and I’m glad you enjoy them. Hopefully we’ll have a good night on Saturday!