THE FOGARTY FORUM: Magic returns as Lar back in the groove

As unfair as it is, Lar Corbett is still seen, both inside and outside his county, as the personification of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final humiliation to Kilkenny.

A defeat of such magnitude shouldn’t rest on any one set of shoulders but then the tactic was regarded as such an affront to the game, never mind Tipperary, that it demanded a fall guy. Declan Ryan and Tommy Dunne each got a barrel; Corbett received both.

Since then, the timing of his trip to New York with the GPA, as noble as it was to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy in Breezy Point, in the lead-up to Thurles Sarsfields’ All-Ireland club semi-final against Kilcormac-Killoughey arched already raised eyebrows.

With his own great club man Jimmy Doyle questioning what he was doing on the field, Corbett hasn’t been short of detractors at home or away these past seven months.

What might they say, having watched the 32-year-old over these past four weeks?

The Lar Corbett that tentatively approached a goalmouth in 2012 isn’t the same one that now hunts it. Last summer, his ears twisted every which way but forward. Now they point straight ahead.

Would the Lar Corbett of last season have so deftly tapped the ball into the Galway net as he did last month, exhibiting the temerity to disguise it as a misjudged juggle in his solo?

Look back at last year’s Munster championship and faced with the same opportunity, he would have most likely passed the ball to a team-mate. Having not lifted a hurl for months, he was bereft of the confidence to do what he does best but fast forward to these past four weekends and his touch has been sublime.

In four starts and a substitute’s role, he has scored a handsome 3-6. This league has been for the most part a great deceiver but Corbett’s class suggests there is plenty to abide by in what he’s shown this spring.

RTÉ’s scant coverage of the game on Sunday night didn’t do justice to him but he had Semple Stadium in raptures earlier that afternoon. His role, although a cameo one, was certainly best supporting. His ghosting run for Eoin Kelly’s opening goal, his nimble pick-ups for Michael Cahill’s point and one of his own, not to mention the diligence he showed for his own goal were sumptuous.

But for a Kelly reverse hand-pass being interrupted, another haunting Corbett run would have surely seen him find the Clare net a second time.

While it was Kelly’s 2-8 that saw him greeted with a standing ovation as he was substituted towards the end of the game, Corbett’s renewal is surely what had most Tipperary fans excited.

Last week, former manager Nicky English, the man who scouted him from obscurity in 2000, underlined Corbett’s importance: “If Tipperary are going to win the All-Ireland, they ultimately need to get goals and Lar Corbett is the man who will do it.”

It would be so easy to lump Corbett alongside Dan Shanahan into the Indian summer hurler bracket. The Lismore man’s three All Stars came at the ages of 27, 29 and 30, almost identical to Corbett’s awards at 28, 29 and 30.

After Shanahan, aged 30, and Corbett, then 29, picked up their hurler of their year accolades, it might have been argued their careers tapered off. But then that would overlook what Corbett did to Waterford in the 2011 Munster final.

However, such was his crisis of confidence after that year’s All-Ireland final, when he was unable to countenance the idea of marking Jackie Tyrrell, that Corbett could have been easily dismissed as having had his time.

Sarsfields’ run to an All-Ireland semi-final undoubtedly provided him with an outlet and an opportunity to hone his skills that he neglected in the early months of last year.

But Eamon O’Shea’s handling has clearly had an effect. In O’Shea, both Corbett and Tipperary trust. As Brendan Cummins said about him as coach under Liam Sheedy: “If we could have trained every night of the week with Eamon O’Shea we would have.”

It would be foolish to suggest Declan Ryan didn’t appreciate Corbett’s idiosyncratic character. Why else would he have permitted the controversial tactic of following Tommy Walsh? But it’s no coincidence that Corbett has rediscovered his groove under a man whose departure as coach three years ago angered and depressed him.

2014 league format will be a backward step

We can’t honestly say this hurling league format, now in its second year of existence, has grown on us but it is certainly the lesser of two evils when compared to next season’s preposterous system.

Based on Sunday’s final results, the league quarter-finals, which come in next year, will be: (first teams at home) Wexford v Tipperary, Offaly v Kilkenny, Dublin v Galway, Limerick v Waterford. And here we were thinking play-offs were supposed to reward quality.

A full 10 rungs on the ladder separate Wexford, who won just two of five games in Division 1B, from Tipperary yet their mediocrity will earn a knockout spot in 2014.

Spare a thought for whoever finishes in fifth and sixth position in Division 1A next year. Could we honestly say Wexford, a team that finished fourth in Division 1B for the second year running, merit a quarter-final spot ahead of Cork, who lost just two games against far superior opposition?

As Wexford manager Liam Dunne himself next to admitted in these pages a short time ago, it just wouldn’t be right.

Head-to-head encourages competitiveness at all stages

There’s been the odd crib about the head-to-head differential since it was introduced to the National Leagues three years ago.

It drew plenty of ire in its first season when some counties failed to inform their managers that it was the factor separating two teams on the same number of points.

Score difference continues to distinguish three or more teams on the same number of points and it’s likely both factors will come into play in this weekend’s football league proper finale.

Most people have no issue with counties having their fate decided by their head-to-head record. It encourages competitiveness at all stages of the league.

It also cancels out some anomalies. In this year’s AFL Division 1, Tyrone and Dublin are both on 10 points, but Tyrone are ahead on the basis of having beaten Jim Gavin’s side in Croke Park. Dublin have a score difference of plus 41 points compared to Tyrone’s plus nine but then four of their five games have come on the expansive, quick Croke Park surface.

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