Cork and Tipp tomorrow on an afternoon so pregnant with permutations you feel almost tempted to stand up and gallantly offer it your seat.
On the basis that our heads would surely explode were we to go through all the semi-final and relegation possibilities, let’s talk a little about last Sunday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh instead.
Cork showed enough to indicate that they’ll reach a turn in the road soon, this summer or next summer, the way every emerging team does. And a couple of years later we’ll look back and agree that, yes, that was the day things changed, in much the same way the qualifier win against Tipperary one Saturday evening in Killarney in 2004, when Donal O’Grady’s team got back on the horse after unseating against Waterford in the match of the decade, was the preface to successive MacCarthy Cups.
Last Sunday didn’t mark the turn in the road for Cork’s newest iteration. But it marked the first big step on the journey there. They targeted the game (it would have been amazing if they hadn’t), they hurled their way into it with patience and they were beginning to pull away by the end.
If all that weren’t enough, they even had Brian Cody offering tribute afterwards.
Usually, as well we know, Cody is polite and platitudinous. Here, however, he offered the interesting and unprompted opinion that the hosts should have won by more than two points. It is not the kind of comment Cody normally makes in defeat. Whether he was discomfited at the prospect of his old guard encountering Cork’s young braves later in the year and wanted to sound the alarm well in advance, who knows? There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the post-match interview.
Should Leeside and Noreside meet in the championship the obvious pre-match comparison will be with the 1999 All-Ireland final, when JBM’s Cork, with a bunch of chaps who’d barely be allowed into any self-respecting 21s-only nightclub (Diarmuid O’Sullivan naturally excepted – no bouncer would be stopping him), overran Cody’s Kilkenny in the closing quarter. Doesn’t mean it’ll happen again. But in hurling, patterns repeat themselves all the time.
That Cork finished the stronger may have been a function of a differing imperative in training the week beforehand as well as an indication of their youth. Stick in a heavy session a few days before a match you don’t have to win and it’ll tell on the players’ legs come the Sabbath.
But JBM will have been pleased with Conor Lehane, whom Kilkenny paid the signal compliment of getting stuck into inside the opening 30 seconds. It arrived as almost a surprise to discover afterwards that Lehane scored only a point. Not to worry; they’ll come another day.
And look at the manager’s resources at the back. Shane O’Neill, Brian Murphy, Sean Óg. That’s half a championship-winning defence there already. Eoin Cadogan, perhaps the only man who can make one feel almost – almost — sorry for Paul Galvin, potentially makes it two thirds.
True, Cadogan was badly exposed at full-back by Richie Power in the All-Ireland semi-final two years ago. But that was on an afternoon Kilkenny were so on top out the field that Power couldn’t but feast on the supply being fed to him. Besides, common sense suggests that a man playing both football and hurling will cope better at centre-back in the small-ball game than at full-back.
Their defence will give Cork a fighting chance every day they line out this summer. Of that much we can be sure. And remember, even in the September showdowns of the pair that Kilkenny won during the noughties, Cork made them earn every score, confining them to 1-13 in 2003 and 1-16 in ’06. Kilkenny scored less in winning each of those two finals than they did when losing to Tipperary in 2010.
One final thought. Cork are available at 10/1 to win the All-Ireland. Tipp are 7/4.
One of the prices represents extremely good value. The other price represents no value at all. You’ll be able to work out which is which yourself.
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