For 2015, we must be satisfied. Not a sinner would say other than that the best four comprise the last four.
Yet we are not satisfied. This year’s championship has fluffed the requisite notes. It is as if hurling is trapped in a terrible cover version of 2013’s all- singing, all-dancing, all-permitting chartbuster, trapped with elevator muzak on the way down to a lobby thronged with Kilkenny and Tipperary supporters.
Only ultimate victory for Galway or Waterford will lead to singing about a reign. Your general supporter might put up with Tipp ascendancy over the winter months. But the attractions of that scenario would be gone with February’s slush.
There is specific frustration that a championship with eight live contenders did not transpire. To my eye, eight counties did have a chance of making the 2015 All-Ireland final. Four still do. Last spring, nobody expected Offaly or Wexford to reach September.
So ask the relevant question: did the remainder optimise opportunity? Balanced consideration says they did not.
Clare have been mismanaged. The list is as long as an orangutan’s arm, starting with the decision to release that Behind The Banner DVD and ending with the fiasco over Colm Galvin’s American sojourn.
Ger Loughnane, quite cogent, cut various kinds of charcuterie off the current senior manager in yesterday’s Clare Champion. Kilkenny and Tipperary could opt out of next year’s championship and still this set-up would be facing raw facts.
Cork are a bafflement. Their lack of appetite for the basics - hustling and harrying and hooking - incurs needless disadvantage. Some observers feel club hurling in Cork is refereed in such a fashion as to make Rebel hurlers poor ball-winners when astride inter- county boards. Which or whether, there is no rejig in personnel that will overcome said lack of appetite.
You can change the seating pattern on the team bus. Someone new can arrive in as manager with ten laptops and 20 systems. Cork hurling will continue to decline until its leadership deficit on the field is cured.
Dublin should have beaten Galway, first day out. Had they done so, their season alters. Once that game was lost, the ghosts of needless losses past flew back to their shoulder. Beat Offaly and decent performance in the Leinster final leaves them nicely placed to win an All-Ireland quarter final.
I hear many of the more experienced Dublin players are stuck in a comfort zone, following their spell with Anthony Daly. There is resistance to Ger Cunningham’s difference. Again, this dynamic has nothing to do with outside matters, with who is All- Ireland champion for the gazillionth time. The tools to put a house in order can only be found in that same house.
Limerick were poorer than last season, which is nonsensical in light of age profile. Way poorer, at that. Their players appear to have kidded themselves that they were entitled to do well in 2015 because they got so close to Kilkenny in 2014.
Newsflash: hurling does not move in such mysterious ways. The dynamic is not an occult one. What you put in is what, with a break or two along the way, you get out.
Besides, was every Limerick hurler in optimum physical condition, as of this summer? If not, you are merely optimising a spoof. You can swing high and you can plunge low. You could talk about Éamon O’Shea and Tipperary and Pádraic Maher as a sweeper, the fanciest topic du jour. Or you could expand on Offaly’s dégringolade, the most troubling hurling story of the last two decades. High and low, the story stays the same: players’ personal desire.
Let us pace the low road for a minute. The great rock critic Lester Bangs held that Rod Stewart was the biggest ever waste of white talent. You could do something of a Bangs on Offaly hurling over the last 12 years. Joe Bergin, Stephen Brown, Colm Cassidy, Michael Cordial, Shane Dooley, Dylan Hayden, Diarmuid Horan, Derek Molloy, Derek Morkan: quite a roster of underachievement. What county’s prospects could survive so concave a list?
Joe Bergin, playing shinty for Ireland, is astonishingly skilful. Stephen Brown was nearly as talented a 19-year-old as ever seen. Meanwhile, Rory Hanniffy remained the one shining light, pure class in a bad time, as good an all-round hurler in his way as Ken McGrath. Rory Hanniffy was Bruce Springsteen, born to run.
The kerfuffle over Jack Guiney in Wexford spoke for itself. If one of your top men slackens, the main problem is not with him. The main problem is the handy alibi behind which other panellists can shelter.
A group of hurlers, at any level, crackles with affection, competitiveness, envy, fun, humour, jealousy and resentment. Here is why people refer to a family dynamic. Good managers succeed in channeling those emotions in cohesive fashion.
Brian Cody’s finest achievement during the 2000s lay in ensuring that his best hurlers were his best trainers. If there was a secret to that success, it was one on which every breeze blew. Once JJ Delaney, Noel Hickey, Henry Shefflin and Tommy Walsh were mowing the training field, there was nothing anyone else could do but follow. To do otherwise invites ridicule.
This dynamic inverts real fast, as any shrewd mentor knows. Galway were never going to make ground until Joe Canning got in shape. If your best hurler is carrying pounds, how does a manager rebuke another’s condition without exposing himself to ridicule? And a manager, even once ridiculous, is forever damaged.
The first cut might be the deepest, as someone had it. With championship hurling, though, the wound that needs healing is always the last cut. Clare and Cork and Dublin and Limerick must be their own physician. Offaly and Wexford too.