Staggering setback for team on upward curve

Over time it all tells. It might take time, or in hurling it might take games, as Eamon O’Shea pointed out in these pages last Saturday. 

Staggering setback for team on upward curve

“Obviously the more games you have, the more data you have,” he said putting his economics and statistical hat on.

“Lose three league games out of five, you’d say ‘[he’s a] bad [manager]’, but in an overall context you might need 15 or 20 games to establish that.”

Eventually though, the randomness is reduced, things establish themselves, such as after days like last Sunday in Croke Park. Several things in fact, like:

1 Eamon O’Shea, to use his own parlance, is a good manager, not just a top coach; after 21 league and championship games now, that’s three out of a possible four national finals he’s helped Tipp reach. And Tipp, especially an Eamon O’Shea-led/coached Tipp, are a Croke Park team. His vision of hurling, or at least for this team, has always been geared towards them playing there. It’s where they’ve played some of their most expansive and most scintillating hurling: the 2009 blitzing of Limerick, Noel McGrath’s tormenting of Brick Walsh in the 2010 semi-final, the points against Kilkenny in the 2009 final and the goals against them in the 2010 final; then last Sunday. Tipp’s problem last summer was not getting into Thurles and Croker. This summer they’ve played hardly anywhere else.

2 We’ve often said it, last year’s championship was a complete outlier, a freak even. Its novelty should never have been confused for revolution; Kilkenny and Tipp were merely jaded, or like Elvis in the KitKat ad, taking a break after all the battles over a five-year war they’d raged. Clare were never as good as they looked last summer, just as they’re not near as bad as they looked this year. And Tipp were never as bad as results looked last summer, though they’re better now.

3 The Munster championship may be great fun while it is on but its value come this time of year has to be seriously questioned. Cork this year were just the ninth side in the last 43 years to win Munster having won three games en route to that title. The others — Cork in ’75 and ’82, Limerick in ’94 and ’96, Waterford in 2004, Tipp in ’09, ’11 and ’12 — didn’t go on to win the All-Ireland either. Win the preliminary round in Munster and you’re virtually certain not to win the All-Ireland.

4 The statistics are damning, the trend indisputable; winning your provincial title, especially for the first time in years, seriously damages your All-Ireland prospects. Tipp needed a replay in 2001 to get over Wexford after a six-week layoff; likewise Cork in ’03. Waterford were ring rusty in ’04, ’06 and again in ’10. Tipp had similar difficulty in ’08. Limerick had it in ’13, Dublin too. Only Galway in 2012 and Kilkenny repeatedly have bucked that trend, and even Kilkenny had to learn from being burned in ’01. In football a similar trend applies; three weeks is the ideal layoff, four weeks max; five and six weeks is just too much. It may not be the only or even most important factor behind a provincial champion’s exit in Croke Park but it is undeniably a contributing factor.

5 Cork’s own structures are not up to scratch. Dónal Óg was right on virtually everything he said last Sunday night. Don’t get so much hung up on the 20 pitches; the more pertinent point was the comparison with Dublin’s 50-plus development coaches. Last year was the only season in seven Cork haven’t exited the championship either meekly and/or prematurely, yet it seems losing the 2006 final by three points to the greatest team ever has been the only exit unacceptable to Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

6 There’s something very seductive but also a lot of bluster that goes with all the talk of “Cork are Cork” and “We’re Cork.”

We’ve seen it happen so often now: a good year the one before followed by a good win in Munster, the public drag you into The Giddy Zone and next thing you meet reality in an All-Ireland semi-final. It was the same in 2000 — as much as Jimmy tried to guard against it — the same for the U21 footballers in 2011 after they annihilated Kerry and now it’s happened to the hurlers again.

The Jimmy Effect as brilliant as it is can only squeeze so much, the same with surfing the wave of bidding farewell to the old Páirc in some style. Last Sunday was a Startled Earwigs moment and the worrying thing is unlike Pat Gilroy in 2009 and JBM himself in 1996, this one happened in Year Three. That should never happen to a side on an apparent upward curve in Year Three. For a county that has produced a trainer of the calibre of Sean McGrath, Aidan O’Connell — who made the Counihan Cork footballers the most athletic in the country — and Ed Coughlan — who has made Mayo into a similar animal — it was frightening to see Cork bullied like they were last Sunday, but not unsurprising. In time these things tell.

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