Cork teams always had the ability to turn the bookies into fools. They had an arrogance and strut about them. But that swagger is gone for a bit, writes Anthony Daly.
Before the 1999 Munster final, we were hot favourites to beat Cork. After destroying Tipperary in a semi-final replay, we looked to have taken our game to a new level. We thought we had. We felt stronger than anyone else. We believed we could spook any other team in Munster. What we never thought about though, was that Cork didn’t buy all of that stuff.
I had been on Clare teams which had beaten Cork in the championship in 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1998. Jeez that was stuff we could only dream of growing up in Clare. We had no fear of them. I didn’t even worry about the Rebels until we were walking around in the parade beforehand.
Donal Óg Cusack was standing opposite me as we strolled off behind the Moycarkey Pipe Band. ‘We are Cork, boy, we are Cork,’ he was shouting. ‘We have 27 All-Irelands. Ye have only two.’ I was nearly tempted to correct him. We had three All-Irelands at the time. Cusack must have forgot about 1914. I was only laughing over at him. ‘G’way young lad, you eejit.’ In reality, I was taken aback by Donal Óg’s comments.
Timmy McCarthy cleaned me out the same day. If we were playing any other team other than Cork, we probably would have won that Munster final. They were written off. We were hot favourites. They deserved to win on the day but Cusack was right. They were Cork. They had an arrogance and strut and belief about themselves. And it counted for a huge amount.
Cork teams always had that potential to turn the bookies into fools. They nailed Galway in the 1986 All-Ireland final. They shoved it down Babs Keating’s throat in 1990 when he spoke about donkeys trying to win derbies. A team of young lads won an All-Ireland from nowhere in 1999. Cork may have bolted from the blue to almost win an All-Ireland in 2013 but that team never had the hallmark of other famous Cork sides, primarily because they hadn’t the same level of under-age success to foster, and sustain, that famous old Cork belief.
The pedigree is just not the same any more. The same swagger or confidence is no longer attached to Cork teams. I don’t think this Tipperary team will fear Cork tomorrow in Thurles. They will be wary of the Rebels but they will be ready for any potential ambush.
Tipp are probably more on edge anyway because there hasn’t been the same security around them as heading into other summers. On the whole though, we’re nearly hearing the opposites of modern convention out of both camps; Tipp have been talking about returning to more traditional values after Eamonn O’Shea revolutionised their playing style; Cork appear to be focusing more on going to war with tough, harder players than on winning shoot-outs with beautiful ball-players.
When I played, you always felt you could handle the Cork forwards but their defenders were deadly tough. That carried on into my management with Clare when we ran into Cork in the mid 2000’s. Their defence was stacked with brilliant defenders; ‘The Rock’, Sean Óg, Wayne Sherlock, Ronan Curran, Gardiner, Brian Murphy.
With Tipp, you always felt their backs might be a bit vulnerable whereas their forwards were lethal; Leahy, English, Fox, Aidan and Declan Ryan, Cormac Bonner. They continued to produce brilliant forwards; Eoin Kelly, Lar, Tommy Dunne. That has continued now with Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath and ‘Bubbles’. If he keeps developing the way he has, John McGrath looks set to join that category, and perhaps Jason Forde.
On the other hand, it has flipped in Cork. Now they have some brilliant forwards and a defence that could leak anything. They have tried to toughen them up with a more physical regime. That should make Cork harder to beat but I still think one of the reasons the Cork defence struggled so much is through lack of pace.
Clare showed it up in 2013 and there has been plenty of evidence of that achilles heel since. It might not be pace in straight lines, it’s more a lack of flexibility on the turn. Good forwards have been able to jink Cork defenders too easily. There are numerous examples; Conor McGrath’s goal in the 2013 replay; David Treacy’s spin and kick in the 2013 semi-final; Johnny Glynn’s solo goal for Galway last year; Eamonn Dillon skinned them three times in the league this year in Croke Park.
It has never been in Cork’s nature to play a sweeper but this is a different Cork management team with a different grasp on the modern reality. They know if they don’t put someone in front of Seamus Callanan he could cut them to pieces. I’m sure Cork will sit Mark Ellis back as a sweeper because he is well able to play that role.
Cork has been accused of having a mental softness. There have been strains of that throughout the last few years, and especially in this year’s league, but I don’t think they are soft as others believe. They have tried to harden up. They will play with more of an edge. Yet so will Tipp. That was evident in Brendan Maher’s comments during the week when he referenced returning to a more traditional and physical style.
For all the talk about Michael Ryan’s direct game, I still think you’ll see a return to the game which they played under O’Shea. Tipp though, probably feel they need to marry the two to front up to a Cork side intent on waging war.
I remember Cork playing Clare in Thurles in 2003. Clare had just taken out Tipp and were hot favourites. Clare had been in the All-Ireland final in 2002. Cork had been in disarray. Their players had gone on strike the previous year. But you could almost hear Cusack’s echo from 1999 in the stand. ‘We are Cork boy, we are Cork’.
‘De Banks’ rained down from the stand and Cork washed Clare away with a flood of scores.The Rebels are always dangerous when written off but that group was only getting started. This team just doesn’t have that same level or resource of class and talent and experience.
The Cork supporters will be travelling more in hope than confidence tomorrow. They hope the spirit of Christy Ring will burst out through their veins, that they’ll have Tipp bate before it’s time to save the hay.
Yet Tipp will surely bate Cork before the silage is even in.
Meanwhile, this evening’s Dublin-Wexford game looks an intriguing match but it still should be one in which Dublin are taking care of business. They will be delighted the game is in Croke Park. They performed at a good level during the league. If they maintain that form, they are good enough to win, irrespective of how Wexford perform.
Wexford never fear the Dubs, yet can’t seem to bury them. They will believe there is a big display in them but their spring form was really poor, save for the quarter-final, and I don’t think you can disregard that reality before you turn up in Croker.
At no stage, did Wexford even threaten to get out of Division 1B.
They were lucky to avoid a relegation final. Lee Chin is reportedly out injured but No. 26 has been left vacant, if it’s a scam I think it will only add more confusion in an already fragile camp.
Ger Cunningham has really left his imprint on this team in his second year. Young players have come in. Peripheral players have stepped up. The team has evolved nicely but I still think the Dubs will need more of the old guard like Paul Schutte, Ryan O’Dwyer, Peter Kelly and Shane Durkin if they are going to make a mark on this Leinster championship.
For now though, the younger breed should have enough in the locker to get a result.
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