When Cork hurlers win the All-Ireland, next year or the year after, they will have Michael Moynihan to thank.
One sentence has shifted the dynamic. Shaken them awake. Stirred Corkness.
Last Monday, Michael wrote of decay, indifference and disconnect. He issued a warning.
”If it can happen in Cork, with its clubs and facilities, its population and its traditions, schools and colleges and superstars, it can happen in those counties too.”
Subtle as John Fitzgibbon’s movement, Moynihan was placing Cork right at the heart of something bigger.
He was returning Cork to a place it likes to see itself; at the vanguard of something or other, even if it is only a decline.
This has struck a chord with them and ensured that even the week’s more melancholic hurling conversations lifted, at some point, into wistful defiance and a new mantra.
“Hurling can’t afford to lose Cork.”
They couldn’t care less about other counties, of course. Their latest plan for renewal contains a ‘call to arms’, urging all their hurling missionaries working elsewhere to regroup inside county lines.
But Moynihan has made a timely appeal to their natural self-importance.
It has given them a reason, in their angst, to summon past glories and marvel at what they have given the world. And fret about how the world might cope without them.
He has put them in touch with that everyday moment, on a schlep up Patrick’s Hill, when their exhaustion inevitably melts into wonder.
“Some hill, all the same.”
Or the way their impatience softens into pride at the length of the queue outside KC’s chipper. And how wet it was.
Moynihan has anchored them. Given them a rallying point. They can do more than save themselves. They can save hurling.
It was needed. They had settled too snugly into their ennui. Begun to draw black comfort from crisis.
It brought to mind the time their great band Microdisney ran off a range of “Microdisney are shit” T-shirts.
Cork’s humour was always gallows. But never hopeless.
Now they were Wilde on his crummy deathbed, insisting that wallpaper goes or he goes.
What do you make of the hurlers? Pure septic.
Win an All-Ireland? They will, yeah.
In Thurles, against Wexford, the hurlers seemed to lump it onto the field with them, this fugue.
What made this rock bottom was the way they weren’t remarkably bad, on the face of it.
They tipped away. There was no desperate flurry of wides. No calamitous mistakes. They did some things Cork used to do. The few points before half-time when the other crowd are already peeling the oranges. The kind of late goal that unlocked many jails for them.
But there was nothing that suggested they were more entitled to win it than Wexford. And they have always been more entitled to win it than Wexford.
At its best, Cork hurling was a fluid, urgent, emotional, entitled beast. But most of what was instinctive to them is gone.
Now, they stand up to hit it and you can nearly see them second-guess. Or they put the head down and run blind for an alley.
It’s hardly just a longing for traditional methods either, a distaste for sweeping and systems.
In the noughties, they were able to run and carry and handpass in non- traditional ways because at least they knew it was their own idea.
But now they dance self-consciously to somebody else’s tune. Then slope off the floor, still looking for their jumper.
Maybe they needed rock bottom before Moynihan could give them purpose.
The day after his appeal came their most daring solo run in an age.
He hardly wrote the plan in 24 hours, but Kevin O’Donovan was emboldened to deliver his 25-point blueprint for Cork GAA unbeknownst to his colleagues on the county board.
It will hardly come to much. That’s not the way these things work. It is never a great sign for a manifesto’s prospects when the people responsible for making things happen haven’t even touched it but wash their hands anyway. But, crucially, the plan casts Cork at the centre of a movement. Reiterates that saving Cork is just the first step to saving us all.
After around 6,000 words of proposals and measures and aspirations, O’Donovan wraps up with a vital chapter: ‘Reform beyond Cork’.
“We must see beyond our borders too and rather than constantly voting against national reforms, instead be drivers of change nationally showing true Rebel character in a fearless and positive fashion.”
I don’t know if it ever really occurred to Tipp, during the great famine, that they owed it as much to hurling as themselves to rise again.
In rough times, it was Cork patronising them, insisting hurling was only half-dressed without them.
It is a certain humility, maybe, wrapped up in the veneer of Tipp arrogance. The same way a hammering of Waterford terrifies as much as it exhilarates, for fear of what fall might follow such pride.
Doling out a hammering never worried Cork. And now they have fastened onto the idea that hurling is starkers without them, they will be dangerous.
And they will hardly be down for long.
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