Beware a Cork display of modesty

I can trace, to the hour, when it became evident that the current Cork crisis would cut very deep. But we’ll come back to that.
Beware a Cork display of modesty

For now, Cork, pull up your shirt and cough, so we can examine the symptoms.

For a people so convinced of their centrality in national and world affairs, we have long been able to admire the capacity for false modesty in Cork, even at their finest hours.

This natural ability had Bill O’Herlihy letting on he had never before seen a game of soccer, right up to the end.

Maybe it played a part in Denis Irwin becoming the most sung unsung hero of them all.

And it famously had the late 70s hurlers widely regarded as a middling outfit, even as they were completing the three in a row, fielding a galaxy of stars.

And yet, at a time when Cork hurling has never had more to be modest about, the modesty, though maybe no longer false, all of a sudden rings falser than ever.

“Tipperary are the benchmark,” Cork selector Pat Ryan told us, ahead of Sunday’s meeting of the old rivals.

“Tipp are the benchmark in Munster,” echoed defender Cormac Murphy.

We don’t know how many more said it, because on Thursday the Examiner’s sophisticated software systems triggered the alarm and prevented ‘benchmark’ and ‘Tipperary’ appearing together in any more headlines.

So now it seems they are having to script Corkness for them, something their footballing giant Derek Kavanagh hinted at in these pages a few weeks ago.

In a superb, well-reasoned lament — another important signpost of a sad decline of a way of life — Derek told us that “the Cork brand is broken”.

He feared that years of administrative neglect had left them with “nothing that tells our young talents ‘This is Cork’”.

Derek wants a centre of excellence, maybe with a sign they could touch, like Anfield, where youngsters could absorb the Corkness. And presumably learn to play down their chances with a certain panache.

It was the cry of a desperate man, and futile of course. Because the old Corkness can only come from a great certainty that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of them, because they are Cork.

Where did it all go wrong for them? We could easily trace the mutation in their DNA to the mid-noughties hurling success. It was an intriguing spell when much of what was natural to Cork was suppressed.

Not only did they start to carry and solo and handpass, instead of letting the effing thing in; but they were allowed, even encouraged, to broadcast what they had always known; that Corkness is a superior state of being.

It worked for them then, and worked well while it stayed fine for them. It worked for Roy Keane most of the time too.

But now, that the fundamentals are less sound, they are unmoored.

All the same, I fear the current malaise goes deeper. That perhaps the noughties braggadocio simply created a dangerous ideological vacuum for other influences.

It was around half-four on May 31, 2009 that I copped it.

You could excuse, in a way, the proliferation of Toyota red in Semple that day, because a Cork terrace has always been an ecumenical place, but then, it came, just as Tipp were pulling clear; a ball over the sideline and a voice behind me imploring Barry Kelly and his officials to award a “lineout for Cork”.

It was symbolic confusion, and you could immediately foresee big problems up ahead for them.

At this time, remember, there were lads from Cork city going around saying things like ‘Munster by the grace of God’, when five years earlier a birthplace anywhere beyond Blarney would be considered the kind of karmic reincarnational punishment Glenn Hoddle used worry about.

Again, it stayed fine for a period. The footballers even won an All-Ireland. But on a practical level, it affected them a small bit, the odd wristy lad attracted away into the rooting and tearing by the few bob.

And psychologically, the impact has been disastrous.

Essentially what has happened here is they have sacrificed their identities and fastened onto something which has, at its core, Limerickness.

It couldn’t have ended well and we saw the result this week with the publication of a magazine celebrating the 10th anniversary of a Heineken Cup win.

A tribute to a famine now on year eight.

If they are not careful, someone next year will want to celebrate a dozen since an All-Ireland.

While Cork try to work out who they are, Tipp have been firing on all cylinders in the build-up.

The tweet from Borrisoleigh was a masterstroke, distracting us with rumblings of deep discontent around the camp, while managing to slip the message out there, almost subliminally, that the lads are training like dogs, maybe like never before.

The Tipperary Star came up with the stat that Tipp have never beaten Cork in Munster in a year ending in six since 1916, at once communicating the size of the task but also a sense of destiny.

The Blood and Bandage Lady came out, to confirm she had deserted Cork, and found a better way of life in Tipp.

And they are sticking, by and large, with the Eamon O’Shea mantra that it doesn’t matter if they win or lose, that it’s all about the performance.

And this week Nicky English took that further by wondered if it was even worth winning at all, given the long route in Munster.

They have played it down so much that the crowd Sunday will only start to filter up from around the square near half-time if it looks like Cork are being filleted.

The only danger for Tipp is they have played the build-up almost too well. That is always when they’re most vulnerable.

Cork by five.

Discover the power of a team hiding

A fortnight ago, there were emotional scenes in the west when Connacht claimed another of rugby’s traditional, much-coveted prizes, the home semi-final. Expect a ten-year celebration.

Then this week, we were treated to video footage of the moment that ensured they will win today’s semi-final; when some Connacht lads confronted the thief who stole Robbie Henshaw’s laptop.

In the Irish Independent, Neil Francis was certain it will see them home from here, recalling the time a rugby team he played on disturbed a thief going through their wallets in the dressing room and administered: “a fearful doing”.

“No pity. No mercy. No remorse.”

Sure enough, the bloodshed had such a galvanising and bonding effect on the lads, that “the following Saturday the team played brilliantly”.

Good news for Connacht, and surely good news too for entrepreneurs in the corporate sector so influenced by events in the world of rugby.

It is doubtless already proposed, by motivational experts within the game, that the traditional captain’s run might be usefully replaced by a punishment beating.

The advances need not stop there.

With survival academies and raft building and obstacle courses and what not increasingly passé as a means of achieving “corporate activation”, surely there’s cash money in organised hidings of suitably outnumbered victims?

Where rugby leads, we follow. #shouldertoshoulder


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