The Barren Years A Major Cork Concern

Hurling Fans Are Sick And Tired Of Current Provincial Championship Format And Cork And Tipp, Unlike Previous Eras, Will Not Draw A Full House To Thurles

 

What's Another Year? It's Tipperary (at home again - Thurles) and Cork senior hurlers and for Cork fans it has the potential to be a repeat whitewash of 2016 when a clear threee goals was the dividing line in Tipps favour. A reduction in margin would be a bonus for Cork in 2017.

 

Surely the administrators do not need binoculars to understand the depression present in provincial hurling since the back doors were introduced. And it's getting worse every year. True Galway are now capable of finally challenging Kilkenny in Leinster but that is not what hurling fans really want.

 

In Munster, with five primarily hurling counties in the pot, repeating Cork and Tipperary all over once again, is an unfair balance and it's only the players can organise a serious challenge to abandon the provincial hurling championships in their current format. Tradition is outweighing reality in its meaning.

 

Cork or Tipp will be required to play three matches in Munster in 2017, excluding any draws, and with serious opponents Waterford, Limerick and Clare in the other corners, winning Munster is a tough ask of Cork and Tipp.

Spectators intending to travel to Thurles need not worry about ticket supply. Those days are long gone. A more pragmatic hurling tournament is long overdue for the fans who pay the piper.

Rugby and soccer are immensely popular sports codes and the financial rewards for star players have reached vast sums during a players career. A few years ago Cork lost a young player with vast potential when he chose rugby over hurling.

 

Of major consideration also is the fact too many counties are way outside the bounds of seriously challenging for All Ireland honours in hurling and football and the back door has widened the gaps by several miles. Croke Park says giving the counties more games is the answer, but the club only players meantime slog it out in the Autumn and Winter mud and rain.

 

Various sub committees have been set up to examine a new format and again a simple survey with the audiences who now no longer support preliminary inter county games, will reveal that back doors have been tried and tested for many years and are meaningless affairs in promoting hurling in the weaker counties. A first round victory by a minnow over a giant county in either code is exactly that. Progression is the name of the game.

Strong counties, if they are beaten in first round matches, are far from out of the equation. A Laois or a Westmeath first round victory over a Kilkenny or Dublin would go down as a major shock but both powerhouses would bounce back in the back doors. The financial clout of Dublin takes them out of reach of all other counties when sponsorship beckons and just like Chelsea, Man City and Manu, financial muscle drifts only to the clubs who can provide value for money for all sponsors.

 

And now to the playing field.

Nobody knows what to expect from Cork hurling and football teams and whilst football was always a difficult Cork subject, hurling is now in the same bracket. It's almost similar to the county footballers - it depends entirely on which Cork team turns up, but man for man, Cork have too many weak hurling spots - spots that have not been successfully plugged for several years.

 

Curran, Corcoran, O'Connor, Deano, Dónal Óg, The Rock and several more Cork inter county hurlers, left many glorious golden memories and nobody has stepped up to the plate in the intervening years. Cork's dismal under age performances are a huge topic in the rebel county and around the country, but alas there is no golden torch shining out that new horizons are waiting to explode. 

 

No.3 and No.6 are the obvious major red alert positions, whilst numbers eight and nine are very unsettled black spots also. Cork fans will travel to Thurles in much smaller numbers than in previous campaigns simply because it would be almost impossible to see a Cork fan put a tenner on the rebels.

 

In bygone times it was accepted that Cork hurlers were like mushrooms - they sprung up overnight. Prime examples were 1966 and 1986 - two All Ireland finals in which all the expert hurlers on the ditch forecast, that Cork would turn up as bridesmaids and of course not only did they turn up, they blew Kilkenny and Galway hurlers clean out of Croke Park.

 

2OO5 is all of twelve years since Cork came home with the Liam McCarthy Cup and simply put, that is more than a famine for Cork fans. In recent years the decline in the three top grades of Cork club hurling, senior; premier intermediate and intermediate championship hurling, has to be seen to be believed. There is scant little difference in stanards between those three grades and attendances have plummeted, even for county finals.

 

There is no magic wand around Cork and surprise, surprise, even the die hard Cork fans will settle for a gutsy Cork performance against Tipp on Sunday 21st May 2017 at Thurles. And even a Cork victory will not re-establish confidence, so low is the fans belief in the current squad, but that is not entirely down to the players representing Cork.

A beaten Tipp team will regroup for the qualifiers and so will the other top tier counties. And for good measure, Cork would then have a mighty job to achieve, to even win the Munster championship. Again simply put, Cork have not got enough steel, skills and all round balance, to mount a serious challenge compared to Galway, Tipperary and Kilkenny in the current hurling climate. 

And if they succeed in downing Tipp, it will be pointless unless they follow on with a glorious run and finally get beaten only by a better team on the day.

 

This summary of Cork and Tipp is all about Cork so far. Cork are so far down the pecking order as likely 2017 All Ireland champions, Tipperary will present an enormous hurdle and foremost in the minds of Cork fans will be, the 2016 embarrasing thrashing at the hands of Tipp.

And worse still the fact, that the Cork team could have headed back for the Jack Lynch tunnel at half time. 

 

Tipp have major firepower on paper and on the field. Searching for omens of equal comparison between both sides is not realistic.

Beginning with the two full back lines, Cork have been brittle for a few years in this pivotal area,whilst Tipp have been impressive.

Across the Cork half backs, this can only be described as another shaky and almost permanently leaking situation. Tipp have real ammunition here, none moreso than the giant, Padraic Maher. Two critical areas pointing to Tipp.

 

Midfield.

Unsettled for Cork for several years and even Daniel Kearney has been called ashore too many times and Daniel is touted as the midfield go to man. Hard to find a suitable partner for Daniel at midfield and it's a case of wait and see how it goes.

 

Upfront Cork have potential but they do need a dry day and firm sod. Last year the game was played in winter conditions totally unsuitable to a fragile Cork team. 10, 11 and 12 on both sides is the most equal department but going inside, especially for Cork, Pat Horgan (if he gets a starting jersey) and Alan Cadogan, need to fire on all ultra high cylinders.

Horgan relies on his freetaking to keep him onside with selectors as the reason to be selected but an awful lot more is an essential tool for an inside forward. Horgan has only displayed such talent in Cork club hurling. Unfortunately for Horgan, this is a major problem for Cork fans when it comes to grabbing scores from open play and the confidence factor with Cork fans is long gone. Many Cork fans have been asking too frequently - Is Pat Horgan a luxury Cork can ill afford? 

He has sat on the benches in the latter games of the league and only against Tipp at Pairc Ui Rinn did he really show up and with an able freetaker in Conor Lehane as ample cover, Cork selectors need to resolve this factor.

 

Alan Cadogan has lightning speed when he gets away on his mazy diagonal runs but too often his man-marker has stunted his ability to achieve clean possession and he has been withdrawn by the selectors.

 

Across the full forward line Tipp have proven hurlers at 13, 14 and 15 and unlike Cork's trio they have serious reputations to uphold.

The goalies are equal but the Corkman needs to go permanently long with his puck outs, especially in the opening exchanges. Nash has coughed up some very serious mistakes close to his own goal area over the last two years and he needs to eradicate these unnecessary gift tokens to his opponents.

 

Verdict:

As a Cork supporter of 60 years still standing in the red corner, my head says Cork are out of their depth once again, but my heart goes back to the days of overnight mushrooms. That is wishful thinking and that's all Cork fans can do at Thurles, but we'll be there for the storyline once again.

My forecast is Tipperary blew into a Galway hurricane in the recent League final and defeat to Cork would undo all the Blue/Gold confidence reaped in 2016.

Many experts say Cork are in transition but I happen to believe, senior inter county teams are only in transition when they are reaping the rewards of their successful All Ireland minor and under 21 teams and Cork have been firmly locked out of champioship glory at under age in both codes. Whilst Tipperary will thread carefully, they will not spare Cork blushes on the scoreboard. Tipperary by at least 5/6 points is my forecast and I gladly desire that the Cork lads will have us homeward bound proudly waving the rebel flag.

 

Finally these back and side doors have trampled hurling more than football into sawdust. It's unrealistic to expect the top teams to spill twice in the one year.

 

Championship should be Championship. Knock out should be Knock out. 

 

 

As long as Croke Park deem revenue as the ONLY tool of the trade, hurling in its current championship format will only appeal to spectators, when it gets to the knock out stages.

 

Derry JF Doody

Editor