As a Spurs supporter, he’s given me a fair riddling lately, but he’s a far more fanatical Cork supporter. He blitzed me with texts after yesterday’s result. “Can’t wait to see what you’ve to say about that in the morning, boi. We’re back. Rebels Abu.”
It doesn’t take much for the swagger to come back. It doesn’t take much to the set the Cork bois off.
They are certainly on the right road now, for sure. They’re always talking about mushrooms in Cork but a lot of the diehards down there also believe that good young hurlers grow on trees. They used to. They don’t anymore but I’ve seen over the last few years with the Limerick minors how many acorns they’ve planted and some of those acorns grew into oak trees yesterday.
That was the way Cork had to go. There is no transfer market like Chelsea have. You can’t import players. After so many barren years, Cork tilled the ground smartly and they’re reaping the harvest now. There is no magic formula. It’s just hard work after more hard work, that requires even more time. Plenty of time.
Over the last few years, I’ve met some Cork people who have been so critical of Cork hurling that it’s not funny. They had a valley period. But are all counties not entitled to some kind of a dip? By the admission of some of those Cork people, they don’t believe they are. They feel they should be winning All-Irelands every year but reality has finally set in with a lot of them.
At the recent Cork-Waterford minor match, I got talking to a few of those diehard hurling men. They were more circumspect. They appreciated that it would take more time than many of them thought, or hoped. I don’t believe that Liam MacCarthy will end up in Cork this year but they are doing things the right way and Liam should find his way back there soon.
This squad are lucky that they are being steered in the right direction by an open and honest manager in Kieran Kingston. He is not making himself out to be a guru or tactical genius. He held his hand up when last year’s sweeper experiment blew up in their faces. He and the players decided that they were going at this in 2017 the Cork way.
I have seen that myself in Limerick, when I hear people involved with us say: “We’re going to try and play the Limerick way.” I know what that means — hip to hip, hardy stuff, fast ball into the forwards. Cork have a Cork way and we saw that in spades yesterday; pace, class, forwards who want to score, a team full of confidence in itself that it can win shoot-outs with the best of them.
Cork have that swagger that when it appears, it’s brilliant swashbuckling stuff. Putting up a score of 2-27, 2-20 from play, is just savage stuff. That is what Cork players were reared on; JBM, Tony Sull, Tomas Mul. That is their history and their heritage.
If you had said to me yesterday morning that Cork would concede 1-26, I’d have said that Tipp would win handy. They hit 0-23 last year and won pulling up but this Tipp team is not the same force it was last year. Micky Cahill is a loss but the legs have been exposed on other Tipp defenders. Teams know now that they can get at them.
The half-forward line put up some big scores yesterday but the Cork half-back line still dominated. Michael Breen was brilliant, scoring six points from play but the half-forward line never stopped the Cork half-back line from lorrying ball forward. And the Tipp defence couldn’t stem that flow. James Barry is out of form. So is Ronan Maher. Padraic Maher is being dragged all over the place. John O’Keeffe was in huge trouble on Alan Cadogan. Cathal Barrett was lucky to only get a yellow card for all the pulling and dragging he was doing. Seamus Kennedy was taken off but others could have gone before him. At least Joe O’Dwyer made a difference when he came on.
All the credit goes to Cork. We could smell an ambush but it was legitimate to wonder if you could throw in five debutantes against the All-Ireland champions and hope to land that kind of a windfall. It just goes to show the inherent belief Cork have when they get any sniff of a big scalp.
I wouldn’t doubt the influence of Gary Keegan either. His whole focus is on the day. In boxing terms, he breaks it down to every single punch. When Tipp hit Cork yesterday with John McGrath’s goal, Cork responded with two brilliant points. Anthony Nash was brilliant too in how he repeatedly picked off Tipp with his puck-outs.
Cork ran Tipp off the pitch but they outworked them too. The contrast from last year was like night and day. From the very outset, you saw Colm Spillane jumping out over John McGrath’s head and fielding two balls over him. Damien Cahalane was in Seamus Callanan’s face. OK, he had to rely on Nash once to make a brilliant save before half-time but Cahalane stood up all afternoon and kept his mind on the massive task he had. What a debut for Mark Coleman. He was sensational.
This looks like a major setback for Tipp but I wonder if it is. They looked like a team early on that was keen to lay down markers. They did early in the league but there was a steady drop off in form since the Kilkenny game in March. Yet if you start to tail off at that point, you can soon end up in a tailspin, which is where Tipp have found themselves over the last two games. I thought a few of the goals they scored against Wexford masked the reality that day because Wexford gave them enough of it.
They won’t play again now for nearly two months, which gives Mick Ryan and his management a massive chance to bring freshness back into the group, to almost look on the All-Ireland as a completely new season. I expected Tipp to win yesterday but I wasn’t sure Tipp would win Munster and they may be better off out of Munster now than playing another couple of games and still ending up where they will expect to now anyway — an All-Ireland quarter-final.
Cork will be thrilled with the manner of the display but the key for everyone involved now is can they back this up again in four weeks time. The big issue for Cork over the last few years has been inconsistency. One good display has invariably been followed by a flat performance. What’s more, they will now face a more tactical, more aggressive and hungrier team than what they met yesterday.
Cork will think they can take out Waterford but they have to go out now and prove it.
That though, is for another day. The swagger is back. Rebels Abú.