Detecting signs of life in Corkness

You’d have to consider it a state of emergency. Corkness has been declared missing, writes Larry Ryan.

Detecting signs of life in Corkness

You’d have to consider it a state of emergency. Corkness has been declared missing, writes Larry Ryan.

A people are, as Brian Cuthbert chillingly alluded, teetering on the brink of a normality complex: “We have lost our Corkness… It’s the greatest strength we have. If that’s taken away from us, we are the same as everybody else, and we don’t want to be the same as everyone else.”

In this, their former football boss was playing on their deepest fears, the same nagging anxiety that persuades everyone from Cork to let you know they are from Cork in the first six or seven seconds of acquaintance, for fear you don’t realise.

As Niall Tobin encapsulated it, “I’m not proud of being a Corkman, just grateful.”

It is their prized asset, the top line on their CV. They might have spent a few bob too much on the Páirc, but it can’t be overlooked that in the stadium prospectus, alongside the state-of-the-art promises, there was one key statement of fact and ideology that proved they got value: “Bar one, every contractor and subcontractor on site is from Cork.”

That is probably what Cork GAA chair Tracey Kennedy means when she describes Corkness as “that air of confidence just on the right side of arrogance”. That readiness, too, to admit when things are not perfect, to accept, in this case, that there was a cuckoo in the nest.

It has to be preserved, Corkness, and the energy and defiance and truculence it gives them. God knows, I’ve warned them often enough on this page not to neglect it. And yet, you’d wonder about the timing of this journey.

Of course it’s no harm to put a few plans in place, but why set off on a five-year voyage of introspection, just as they were ready to win five or six of the next six or seven hurling All-Irelands?

Just as the ducks swim in a row above on The Lough. When the academies are flying, the underage is strong, and they even have rugby schools closing in on the Harty.

When Cork is hurling country.

Tipp will be down for 10 years, by the latest estimates. Kilkenny are wrestling with their own normality complex. We don’t know yet if all the energy Limerick have suppressed in not enjoying the celebrations too much will be as detrimental as the energy Tipp traditionally put into relishing then.

And while Cork might have overspent a few bob on the Páirc, at least they were making a note of what they were spending, unlike Galway.

We can’t forget either that Cork had Limerick bate out the gate in July, until some small malfunction late doors. Maybe they forgot that Cork are Cork.

“We have lost our Corkness. And in losing that you don’t just lose your Corkness for football,” Cuthbert warned, suggesting there had been some contagion. That the infection hadn’t been quarantined.

But disappointment in the football was available to them at the best of times. And this state of affairs was generally measured in the accepted Leeside unit of ‘continental fucks’, to the tune of not one.

Tracey Kennedy is inclined to put this apathy about Cork football down to results. But in the magnificent Netflix documentary, Sunderland Til I Die, which we’ll return to soon, a steady stream of fans lined up to insist there is no link between progress and passion.

“It’s me club. I’ll die for them. We’re shit. Who gives a fuck? It’s Sunderland.”

But they can take it or leave it, the Gah, in Cork. What some see as apathy, others would describe as a state of grace.

Until Kerry got inside their heads.

No doubt this is all Kerry’s doing. The Kingdom punditocracy have taken turns goading and plámásing them. Éamonn Fitz even signed off by reminding them they weren’t far away, the usual caper. No doubt they will all row in over the coming days to welcome this five-year manifesto.

They have an unhealthy interest, in Kerry, in seeing a Cork football team put in place good enough to be beaten by only four or five points by Kerry.

It is undoubtedly Kerry that has provoked them into this wild goose chase. Who have talked them into an existential crisis just as they were set to rule again.

But in chasing Corkness, have you lost Corkness? If you have to go searching for Corkness, do you really know what you’re looking for?

Eoin Edwards, of this parish, tried to explain it during the week. “It’s simple, buddy: Corkness can’t be bottled, can’t be understood, can’t be bate. It’s just a perfectly natural state of mind, kid. It’s Andy Gaw, the Shilling Stores, Nosey Keeffe’s, Jimmy Crowley, the Kasbah, and whatever you’re having yourself.”

I hadn’t a notion what he was on about, which is exactly how it should be, of course.

When asked by a Kerryman on Twitter to define Corkness, the eminent Dr Anthony O’Connor had an even more appropriate response: “What about it? What concern is it of yours?”

Corkness is at its most potent distilled into those three-word phrases. What about it. Leave them off.

And that is the correct response, of course, to the Kerry lads. To leave them off and to get on with winning the hurling. And win another football someday maybe, when the red stars align.

Cork will always have Corkness, unless they go looking too hard for it.

The camogie players have it. And, coincidentally, the ladies footballers’ Corkness was analysed this week in the Irish Times by Joanne O’Riordan, a woman who epitomises it more than anyone. A woman blessed by advantage, in the sense that she is from Cork. A poster woman for the ‘what about it’ spirit.

And even amid this week’s dangerous introspection, there were signs too that Corkness survives. That they are still not the same as anyone else.

“If it becomes clear that it’s time we need to take a look at hurling we will. If hurling needs attention down the line we’ll do so,” Tracey Kennedy said.

As they get ready to win five or six of the next six or seven, there is pure Corkness in the conviction that the hurling is sorted before they even win the first of those.

Just the right side of arrogance.

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