There it was, his good friend Larry Corbett lampooned after Tipperary’s 2011 All-Ireland final defeat.
A photograph of the previous year’s Hurler of the Year superimposed into the front pocket of a pair of jeans jokingly claimed to be Jackie Tyrrell’s.
“It was only banter. There wouldn’t be much of that going on between the players. Jackie had done well on Larry but people were quick to forget what Larry did the year before.”
They were just as urgent to write off that 2011 final as a disaster for Corbett despite him having beautifully set up Pa Bourke for Tipperary’s only goal. The following year is remembered for his bizarre first-half tracking of Tommy Walsh but in the second half he again aided his Thurles Sarsfields team-mate in finding the net, creating the platform by challenging David Herity.
Neither were fabulous displays by Corbett but those assists are conveniently forgotten in the narrative of decline ascribed to the player since his 2010 heroics.
Even his goal in Nowlan Park in July of last year is shadowed by his hamstring injury that followed later in the first half and the classless jeers from a section of the crowd that greeted it.
“When he was injured it wasn’t nice to see him booed off the pitch,” recalls O’Grady. “He had the beating of Paul Murphy before that. He was burning him every time, got the goal and then his hamstring went. He’s a big a threat as Eddie Brennan for a goal. Once he gets inside his man it’s in the onion bag. Kilkenny know that. They are afraid of that.”
Another Tipperary All-Ireland final goalscoring hero, Mark O’Leary, believes the reaction illustrated just how much Corbett exercises the Kilkenny conscience.
“If you look at the Cork game, Brian Cody was booed when he was on the big screen. I don’t think it was because he was a bad coach or anything. I can’t imagine it was anything too personal.
“The worst thing you can feel as a hurler is having a sense that you’re unknown or not making an impact. It’s obvious that Lar stirs people’s emotions both good and bad.
“It’s hard to say whether people were being bitter at the time or not or maybe it was just a reaction. You could say what they did was a bit of a backhanded compliment, really.”
Having hit Kilkenny so hard in 2010 (for the record, O’Grady believes he was better in ’09), there was schaudenfreude in the county in the perception of Corbett’s demise from embarrassment in ’11 to ridicule in ’12 to pain in the form of his sending off with JJ Delaney, broken ribs and hamstring woe last year.
But if 2013 was injury, the ’12 final was the insult. In his autobiography, All In My Head, Corbett wrote about the plan he had hatched with Tommy Dunne. “The plan was basic enough. If I wasn’t going to be let hit a ball, well then, I would still try to influence the game by distracting Tommy Walsh, Kilkenny’s best defender. If Jackie wanted to take me out of the reckoning that was fine but why should he dictate?”
He also referenced Tyrrell’s “pulling and dragging out of me” but the tactic fundamentally pointed to a loss of confidence on Corbett’s part. Tyrrell asked questions of him he couldn’t answer. Perhaps strangely, the defender hasn’t been assigned to him since 2012. The doubts Corbett has about himself appear to manifest themselves on occasions when he has off-loaded balls close to goal he would have previously struck and stuck.
And then there have been times, like his goals against Offaly, where his worries seem a world away.
“He still has great speed,” says O’Leary. “It’s probably reduced a little but it’s still there and so is his eye for goal. He’s probably not quite as sharp as he has been in recent years but his value to the team is still high. Tipp are going to need a goal or two if they are to win and he’s the type of player who can pop up with a goal.”
O’Leary’s phrase “pop up” is appropriate in the sense Corbett hasn’t been brilliant this summer. There have been teasing moments — take his gorgeous first point against Dublin, for example — but nothing like the consistency of performance in 2009 to ‘11.
“I know he put in a good bit of work over the winter and then his [knee] injury set him back,” O’Grady points out. “He’s really only back since the Galway game. He was quiet the last day but he was still a distraction.
“He’ll be fine on Sunday. The form book doesn’t apply to Larry.”
Tomorrow is being billed as a swansong for Henry Shefflin but little of such fanfare is being afforded to 33-year-old Corbett. Anyway, O’Grady doesn’t see him retiring, for what would be a second time, just yet.
“I don’t know about this game being his finish as an inter-county hurler. He’s unique. He’s lean and strong and has always had fitness. He would happily be an option off the bench, no bother.
“For him and Eoin [Kelly], it might be the last time the two hurl together. They’ve played alongside each other all the way through their careers so to win would be a nice way to top it all off.”
Against the team he’s most haunted and that have most disturbed him, it would be just that.