Can you be on familiar ground in unfamiliar territory? Or vice versa.
Kilkenny and Tipperary meet again in a final tomorrow — a prospect as novel as rain. And yet each brings an intriguing new dimension to the table.
This year Brian Cody has been handed what he always wanted. Jackie Tyrrell has written about his old boss’s enduring knack: “One of his greatest achievements is
consistently convincing us to play with the mentality of underdogs.”
That feat required Cody to draw on all his great powers of persuasion. To convince men who had won everything that they were constantly on the verge of losing it all. Or at the very least, their jerseys.
But now he has been able to take a break from the psychological manipulation, because Kilkenny, for the time being, are underdogs.
And yet, we hardly expected Cody to embrace, as readily, the stock in trade of every GAA gaffer since the bainisteoir cult was formed in the early 1970s.
Youse All Wrote Us Off Coming Up Here Today.
But there he was at the end of January, after the defeat by Cork in the Páirc; setting his stall out, giving a rare nod to the pundits who had lined up to dismiss Kilkenny’s chances this year.
You got the sense of a man who would be filing away a few clippings for the dressing room door. And there was an early bonus among that Monday’s papers. The instantly infamous headline: ‘Cody’s time as top Cat has come to an end’.
You can already picture the next John Mulhall turning that one into some class of rap at an All-Ireland-winning homecoming.
The only difficulty for Cody is he can’t pin that one on the dressing room door. Because Cody never makes it about himself.
That is the great inconvenience too of Kilkenny’s spring renaissance. There are allegations flying around that they have been using performance-enhancing tactics.
The kind of shadowy practice that might, ordinarily, be traced to the very top.
We had been distracted by Only The League; the blooding of youngsters and the juggling of personnel. Pádraig Walsh imprisoned at full-back and so forth.
But then people started to see Pádraig unlock his cell and whizz free, collecting — must we say it — ‘offloads’ and ‘breaking the lines’. They saw short puckouts and angled balls and third-man runs. And what they were seeing and smelling was tactics.
It’s happened without the players really noticing, Cillian Buckley almost apologised this week.
The gurus out there, the men happy enough to make it about themselves, if that’s the way it has to be, are belatedly welcoming Cody into their crowd. But he hasn’t accepted yet. And still, as far as we’ve been told, hurling is hurling.
It is endearing, in this age of the guru, to find an anti-guru, a man with no interest in smearing his fingerprints all over a team. Except in their ‘genuineness’.
When they win the next All-Ireland, it will be the players, not the tactics, that get the credit. And that, you suspect, will get them there all the quicker.
However, if Kilkenny defend their fortress tomorrow with a fresh approach and a door hanging off its hinges with newsprint, Tipp have new ammunition too.
There has been a spring in their step anyway, without outside help. We have explored before the fragile Tipp psyche that outsiders often mistake for arrogance. A fierce determination to enjoy the spoils of success because of a grim certainty it can’t last.
A foreboding that might be traced to Mark Foley in 1990. Or to the fallout, three years later, from Nicky’s smile.
This week, for instance, we must spare a thought for Tipperary man Brian Shinners, just named by
magazine among Tinder’s most-swiped-right men in the UK and Ireland.
No doubt Brian spent a pleasant couple of days giving thanks to be born among a handsome and charming people. But then a great panic swept the internet, as word spread Tinder was down, maybe gone. At that moment Brian surely knew that this was the great reckoning that had to be coming. That it could never have lasted.
But Tinder is back now, seemingly, and Brian is back in business. The worst over.
he hurlers too have been set free by last year’s shock and disappointment. And the pundits are swiping right on them. But they have more up their sleeves than that.
On the face of it, Michael Ryan spent the spring seeing what he has. When Galway turned up the heat last year, he needed two Dan McCormacks. So in the absence, through injury, of even one Dan McCormack, he has been restocking the middle of his team.
But tomorrow mightn’t be so much about what Tipp have learned about themselves.
When they met a few weeks ago it really was Only The League, but this is the first final between the pair since Jackie Tyrrell’s book, where Jackie shared what Kilkenny had learned about Tipp. That they were flaky shapers. That it “always felt like they were scared to beat us”.
Ironically, it was all the “moving and switching” that most convinced Jackie “that they couldn’t take us on, hadn’t the balls to really go at us”. All those shadowy tactics.
Tipp haven’t mentioned it much since, the book. But they might need heavy thumbtacks in one of the Nowlan Park dressing rooms tomorrow.
Cody wasn’t too pleased with John Mulhall, after his lyrical pop at Tipp in 2011. Because whatever about tactics, when it comes to The Savage Hunger, Cody knows well that words like Jackie’s weigh heavier than reams of newsprint.
Don’t believe the hype
Actually, forget everything about dressing room door clippings, about pundits’ verdicts and mind games.
A new study of college athletes, carried out at the Universities of Missouri and Florida, suggests none of it matters a damn.
Media Hype and Its Influence on Athletic Performance, by Cynthia Frisby and Wayne Wanta, studied athletes’ consumption of sports media via TV, radio, internet, and newspapers.
The findings suggested media can play a part in an athlete’s self-perception, but it mostly found the effect to be positive, reducing the athlete’s stress levels.
The research did find newspapers and internet have the strongest influence on an athlete’s state of mind, but crucially, it found that “student athletes who are heavy readers of sports in newspapers tend to be less worried about always being at their best, about letting emotions get in the way, or about trying to get as much sleep as possible”.
Maybe it all suggests the media has gone too soft. Or is putting people to sleep. But for now, at least, players can feel free to start admitting they read the paper in the build-up to a game. And who knows, maybe even be interviewed in it.
Heroes & villains
A stylish footballer, a charming co-commentator — particularly alongside Peter Brackley, where he displayed impressive tolerance for the constant jokes about his hair — a great straight man in the Tango ads, and according to the testimonies piling up, a generous and decent man.
In fairness, he has always been an impressionable lad. Perhaps it was nothing personal with the bus, just Conor fresh off the deadly Anfield buzz, keen to “create an atmosphere” and be regarded alongside the greatest fans in the world.
Wasn’t it Wrighty’s big feature about the Crumlin projects that put all these gangsta ideas into the Notorious’s head?
What is wrong with it? This week served up a Champions League night experience reminiscent of the days watching The Big Match on ITV from the roof, jiggling the aerial til the oul lad confirmed snow was lifting.