WHILE playing some of their least inspired football of the year on Saturday night, Limerick still managed to push Cork to extra-time: and, despite any discernible change in the pattern therein, they were still able to keep the issue up for debate right to the death.
It was a chilling trip north for Cork. It has been claimed they have strength in depth, but it is scarcely a virtue to have as many players on the bench who can do much the same job as those selected, if that job is not particularly impressive.
If Cork win this All-Ireland, it will not be a triumph for outstanding quality, more a case of honest, hard work managing to prevail. They will care little, of course, because All-Ireland titles are not required to pass through any post-final quality control system.
But the sameness of their troops is undoubtedly a worry.
There has been much conjecture about what constitutes Cork’s best 15. It may not be a hugely important matter, because, in the regular reshuffles, no stellar talent is being omitted. It is a Cork team defined by commendable effort, and, in a year fast proving itself well shy of vintage standards, they are entitled to hope it will be sufficient. Ultimately, we see them falling to a team which marries class to all of the above.
Limerick have tried to break the Munster duopoly at a time when Cork and Kerry are All-Ireland contenders. Unlike others who have broken long-standing hoodoos – Clare ‘92, Leitrim ‘94, Westmeath ‘04 and even Roscommon ‘10 – their heightened ambition coincides with an era of prosperity in their province.
Limerick are no smash-and-grab operation. They have come so close so often they have long since lost the element of surprise – and, still, they manage to push the big guns all the way.
And, yet, there is an almost wearying inevitability about Limerick’s defeats, a certainty that they will produce some heroics and forge some unbearable drama before their desperate fate is sealed.
As the clock ran down on Saturday, we gave a snowball more chance of surviving intact one side of hell’s fires than we did of Limerick pushing it to extra-time.
They surprised us, but, even if they did, we still didn’t retain a shred of hope that they would capitalise on the unexpected opportunity thrown their way late doors. They lack the capacity to go that extra mile. It haunted them during Liam Kearns’ time, and haunts them again now. Could it be that they have just enough self-belief to go so far – and too much niggling self-doubt to go any further? They remain one of the great tragic sides of modern-day Gaelic games for their endeavours should have been rewarded with at least one Munster title. So where does the balance of power rest now? The year started with Kerry, Tyrone and Cork as the big three – and, apart from Cork possibly slipping a little off that perch, very little has changed.
The chasing pack of Meath, Kildare and Dublin may be making up ground, but scarcely enough to warrant mention alongside the teams of Jack O’Connor and Mickey Harte. Kildare’s growing assurance makes them a tricky proposition, but we are gradually inclining towards an outright Tyrone victory.
Like Kerry, they have previous when it comes to finding an extra surge in August and September. And, critically, they have real quality in their ranks. The only pebble grating beneath the door is the manner of their defeat by Cork last year but the next two months might retrospectively label it as a temporary aberration.
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