Cork are Cork. Or are they?
They might have left it after them last year, but all the signs had been there that Cork were going to win five or six of the next six or seven hurling All-Irelands.
The development squads are flying, the underage is sorted, rugby is going out of fashion, and Tipp and Kilkenny would be down for 10 years. A people were ready to put their faith in Patrick Horgan’s wrists, instead of carrying out audits on his hooks and blocks.
And then the misfortunes of their footballers persuaded Cork to set off on a five-year existential quest to rediscover Corkness.
Which might have been grand had they kept it to themselves. Had they set up laboratory conditions behind closed doors. In a ball alley somewhere. With Dónal Óg and Diarmuid Sull and somebody like John Fitzgibbon in the lab coats. Billy Morgan observing. Roy on bibs and balls.
Microdisney and the Franks and John Spillane piped in, a few barrels of Beamish and Tanora to keep them going and all the breasts in a bun they wanted from Lennoxs. Let them flake away until a few conclusions had been drawn.
But no, they had to broadcast to the whole country that they were looking into Corkness, that they were slapping a preservation order on Corkness.
And now everybody is sticking their oar in.
Sure, we may have taken the liberty of teasing out Corkness on this page from time to time, having walked among them. But now everybody thinks they know them. Corkness is being interpreted and reinterpreted. And the conclusions being drawn might not necessarily suit them.
Even the Galway lads are at it. This week, Ciarán Murphy of Second Captains went to work on the win over Limerick.
Corkness “defies analysis”, was the gist of his thesis, despite it being the most analysed condition of them all.
And it didn’t stop Ciarán analysing it one more time, his diagnosis essentially being that inconsistency is part of the Cork condition. That you never know what you’re going to get with Cork.
This is another way of looking at things altogether. A subversion of the age-old mushroom theory, that Cork hurlers can appear overnight. An acknowledgment they can just as easily disappear overnight.
If this theory should take hold in public consciousness, it could be extremely detrimental to Cork’s prospects.
In the moments after the win over Limerick, when a natural order had been restored, John Mullane put it down, as usual, to the one constant we thought we’d always rely on: “Cork are Cork”.
But if we don’t know what we’re going to get from Cork, can we truly say with any confidence that Cork are Cork? In fact, do we have to ask: Are Cork Cork?
And if opponents start to realise that Cork may not be Cork, could this put the five or six upcoming All-Irelands in jeopardy?
This may be the kind of contagion Brian Cuthbert warned about, at the launch of the five-year quest. “We have lost our Corkness. And in losing that you don’t just lose your Corkness for football.”
Indeed, the public search for Corkness was the clearest sign they had lost Corkness, some would say.
Alas, there are no easy answers in the search for consistency. Even Pep Guardiola sounded a little inconsistent last week as he tried to explain the consistency needed to win titles.
“Sometimes it is easier to win a title when you have not won it for a long time,” he started off, alluding, no doubt, to The Savage Hunger, before changing tack:
The small famine Cork are currently enduring should ensure an adequate supply of The Savage Hunger. But perhaps there is something in Cork’s intrinsic sense of well-being that sates their hunger pangs.
John Caulfield was always wary of the inconsistency. Adamant he wanted lads who were eight out of ten every week, rather than 10 one week, then four. And John very frequently had to go outside Cork to find those kinds of characters.
Perhaps inconsistency goes hand in hand with their streak of fickleness. Passionate about City or Munster or the Gah one minute, washing their hands of them the next.
They can live with a certain amount of inconsistency, in Cork. For years they queued for buses in hope rather than expectation. They will happily stroll down to Lennoxs or to KCs not knowing if the queue will be out the door. Maybe they are never all that hungry, because of the intrinsic well-being.
And there is something quintessentially Cork about a man watching in jeans one week, then stoutly holding the middle against the champions the next.
In trying to untangle the current lurches in form, their great former goalkeeper Ger Cunningham detects too much reliance on emotion, on the urge to prove somebody wrong.
“Emotion is a great card to play. Cork had it against Limerick. The odd day you have the emotional card to play, it makes a big difference. But they have to get more consistency.”
But maybe the answer is more emotion.
When they were going well last year, John Meyler felt it spill down from the terraces in the rolling waves of ‘Rebels, Rebels’.
Surely nothing will stir their emotions more than the idea that outsiders have them sussed. Their fine hurling writer John Coleman got the ball rolling this week by rebelling against the narrative that Cork are inconsistent.
“There’s a slight flaw with that perceived fault in this Cork team when it comes to championship hurling. Two Munster championships and two All-Ireland semi-finals that could have or should have been won isn’t bad work.”
A Corkman insisting Cork are still Cork. They’re back in business.
Tipp poetry in motion
We may not know if Cork are Cork, but Tipp are Tipp.
Theirs is a different sense of well-being, than Corkness. A more transient carousel of great highs and lows.
This week their former manager Michael Ryan pleaded with the faithful not to get carried away off the back of a second Harlem Globetrotters exhibition.
A matter of minutes later, the first of the salutes landed into Examiner Towers, from the poet Tom Ryan.
A sample stanza...
Cry the fainthearted, ‘Tipperary hurling dead’
No, tis alive with fiercely wondrous will
Proud wear the blue and gold upon your head
Tipperary men are hurling warriors still.
Beautiful, stirring stuff, though even the rugby lads would baulk at writing poetry two games into a four-game round-robin.
But then, if Tipp didn’t get ahead of themselves, would anyone?
Who knew the phenomenal versatility of the not-so-humble rugby shirt?
Or ‘battle armour’, as the marketing people would have it.
Last season, the brownish trim around Munster’s badge could symbolise “the gathering strength from Munster’s home soil and its history of forgotten ancient copper mines”.
Alas, when it came to the business end, Munster were the pits.
Leinster’s tunic has brought better fortune. What appeared, to the untrained eye, to be a few criss-cross lines, is actually “a pattern of spearheads raining down” to represent “the ancient ancestors of the Leinster province and their expertise at throwing the Laighean, a green broad-headed spear”.
Sounds like the kind of thing Stuart Berry might ‘ping’ them for in Glasgow today.
Next term, the pattern on Munster’s new kits will somehow capture “the wall of silence and respect afforded to all who play in Thomond Park and the deafening wave of sound created by Munster’s Red Army in full flight.”
Hopefully, the multi-purpose material will also be able to cope with waves of nausea.