Borges characterised the artistic experience as the perpetual imminence of a revelation that never comes. Not so yesterday in Semple Stadium, where Cork arrived looking for respectability and left with the scalp of All-Ireland champions Tipperary after a performance as Cork-y as the Frank and Walters playing Shandon, writes Michael Moynihan.
The accompanying revelation was a simple one: Cork are back.
Natives in the 30,103 attendance tsked and grumbled about ambushes past orchestrated by the red and white, and it was hard not to sympathise. For many neutral - and quite a few partial - observers, after all, defeat with honour was a reasonable objective for Cork at 3.59 yesterday in Thurles, but in the time-honoured fashion, the Rebels assembled a selection of young, quick, wristy hurlers who beat Tipp in a breathless rush to the tape.
Forgive the reaching for cliche, but the conditions for romance were firmly in place yesterday. For instance, Cork ended the game four points to the good, thanks in part to a late, late goal from substitute Michael Cahalane, newly returned from a serious heart complaint just in time to supply headline writers with plenty of puns.
The Bandon youngster wasn’t the only new face to find the altitude thin but survivable in the Munster championship, either. The pre-game feeling that Cork were gambling on youth didn’t survive close inspection - manager Kieran Kingston and his selectors went for the best players on offer in the county, not the youngest - but it added to that romance significantly. Leeside supporters like the notion that the team bus more or less collects random teenagers on the road to Thurles who can become household names by teatime on Sunday, and yesterday did little to shatter that fantasy.
Sifting through the actuality from yesterday reveals some irritating facts somewhat at odds with the dreams, though.
At half-time Cork were in bonus territory, for instance. Their new players had swum, not sunk, and the scores were level, 0-15 points apiece.
But picking apart the constituent elements of the game, the benefits to Cork of the conditions of engagement were all too apparent. It was a shoot-around, a scorefest, and in the absence of physical punishment in the middle of the field Cork had flourished.
How open was it? By the short whistle, every forward on the field had scored from play, and two of the three goals scored in the second half fell to forwards operating in that well-established metric for space in front of a vulnerable goal: acres.
Cork enjoyed that room a lot more than their opponents. Two of the Tipp full-back line were booked in the opening eight minutes, and a return of nine points from play for the Cork full-forward line indicated the trouble the home side endured in around their own goal. The Tipp half-back line was punished by Cork’s speed more than once as well, and more clinical finishing could have made the closing stages a lot easier for the men in red.
And yet, and yet. A strong parallel argument could be made for Tipperary leaving three goals after them in that time, two in the opening ten minutes when Noel McGrath and Brendan Maher both surged through the middle.
The All-Ireland champions were also getting a decent return from John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer, who appeared to have shed his sluggish league form for the silken touch and dazzling vision of high summer: he banked three assists in the opening 20 minutes for Tipp scores and looked sharpness personified.
Yesterday, though the game swung not so much on Michael Cahalane’s coolly-taken second goal for Cork, but their response to Tipperary’s goal, engineered by a sumptuous Seamus Callahan pass to John McGrath. That nudged Tipp one ahead in the third quarter, but Cork responded with points from Conor Lehane and Shane Kingston to regain the lead.
“We thought at half-time that we needed a goal,” said Cork boss Kieran Kingston after the game, “but Tipp are such a good team, such good forwards, they can kill you any time.
“You fall asleep for five minutes and you can find yourself six points down, the game is all over. We tried to make sure we were consistent in how we approached the game, in how we performed, in how we stayed in the game, and not fall asleep. You fall asleep with that forward line and it’s curtains, the game is over.
“We certainly felt that a goal could win it, or certainly have a huge impact - we got one, they got one and it was critical we responded to that goal. It became a one-point goal, if you like, rather than a three-point goal.” True to form, after the game Tipp boss Michael Ryan called it straight: “We wouldn’t have been happy in terms of how we did play but I thought it was a cracking game of hurling and to be fair to Cork, they were excellent.
“Look, the big deposits, the goals, the second goal put that bit of daylight but Cork’s energy trumped us a little bit particularly in the middle third. I just thought they had a lot of ball and they seemed to have fresher legs.
“But, look, this is Cork. This time last year we were here saying they weren’t themselves, but I tell you they are back and we can take that as a certainty.”
Take-aways for Ryan? Some concern about his side’s inability to impose the game they wanted on Cork yesterday, surely. After the trimming in the NHL final against Galway Tipperary had a light, young outfit coming to their home patch for a championship opener: all the requisite ingredients for an assertion of their credentials early and often.
The expectation that the Premier would put down a marker wasn’t met, however. Cork keeping the game open for so long is a headache that Ryan and his colleagues could do without, and his acknowledgement of Cork’s pace is something other inter-county managers will have noticed also.
Cork boss Kingston also has some blinking messages in his in-box. Cork struggled with their own puck-outs for long stretches, taking some high-risk options and relying on Anthony Nash’s conspicuous bravery to deny Seamus Callahan when a first-half goal looked nailed on.
Kingston will also know that Derek McGrath is sure to structure Waterford in a far more awkward shape in a couple of weeks’ time. If your opponents like to play fifteen on fifteen, then why accommodate them?
That’s for another day. For next day or two Kingston and his selectors are entitled to a little basking, no matter what the meteorologists predict. Harry Truman could have told Kingston a little about where the buck stops, and yesterday was a significant reward for progressive thinking and bravery in selection.
They went for youth and got the response they wanted, and yesterday’s result will put plenty of iron in the Cork soul on and off the field. Further revelations to come.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved