AS you’ll see elsewhere in this issue, today marks the start of a series marking the 30th anniversary of the first half of Cork’s famous double.
The more the two events pass into the rear-view mirror of history, the more the magnitude of the achievement increases and the less likely it seems that it will be repeated. Certainly, if it were to happen – and, realistically, Cork or Galway are the only real possibilities – the chances of dual players being involved, as Teddy McCarthy and Denis Walsh were in 1990, is close to nil.
That’s the nature of things; the world is always changing and so too is the GAA. The games of hurling and football nowadays are quite different from three decades ago – in broad terms, the levels of conditioning are higher and the commitment involved means that it’s nearly impossible to serve two masters.
Don’t confuse that for saying that everything is better now – the players back then didn’t lack for skill and there was often a sense of things being more off the cuff and less choreographed, which is no bad thing at all.
It’s impossible to compare players or teams from different eras and no good can good from saying that X is better than Y who played a generation later. However, one clear metric that is worse now than in 1990 is Cork’s goalscoring and goalscoring in general, albeit at a gentler rate.
In that year, Cork managed 18 goals in five games, including five in the final against Galway – an average of 3.6 goals per game compared to an average of 2.25 across that year’s championship as a whole. It’s somewhat sobering to think that that final was the second-last time that Cork have won a championship encounter by scoring more goals and fewer points than the opposition; the last instance of that phenomenon was Cork’s very next championship game, the 2-10 to 0-13 win over Waterford in 1991.
By the time Cork claimed the Liam MacCarthy Cup again, in 1999, they did so by scoring just one goal in four games – the average of 0.25 well down on the national championship average of 1.75. Cork’s figure in going all the way in 2004 was 1.57 GPG (11 in seven matches) compared with 1.68 nationally, and the average of 1.0 in 2005 – five goals in five games – fell below the 1.5 national average.
Fast-forwarding to the last half-decade and in 2015, 2016 and 2017, Cork had a GPG of less than 1.0 (0.75, 0.66 and 0.75 respectively) but, by this stage, the national average had fallen too, the 1.5 in 2017 the highest of those three years and 2016 having an average of 1.09.
After Cork snaffled two goals in the opening five minutes of their first league game this year, against Waterford, and three in total in that game, manager Kieran Kingston admitted that it was something on which the team were putting greater emphasis. Only in the last match, the loss to Galway, were Cork out-goaled by their opponents.
However, in losing to Waterford and Limerick at home, scoring more goals didn’t stand to Cork. In addition, while Cork’s tally of 11 goals in the league was well ahead of the next best, Waterford and Tipperary with seven, only Westmeath got fewer than Cork’s 90 white flags. As well, no team allowed more points than Cork’s 110 and only Westmeath’s 11-105 conceded was worse than Cork’s 5-110.
It seems that, in the modern game, it’s easier to get three points than one goal, something borne out by the commonplace occurrence of scorelines like 0-28 or 1-26. Would it be worth experimenting with four points for a goal, or would such a move only lead to teams attempting to tighten up even more to avoid giving away such a boost to the opposition?
It's surely worth trying, if for no other reason than it’s easier to implement than trying to limit the number of defensive players inside the 45 or 65, for instance.
Former Tipperary manager Babs Keating – who is often credited for providing Cork with the motivation to win the 1990 Munster with his ‘A donkey doesn’t win a derby’ comment, even though it was actually a compliment to the players – has often called for a heavier sliothar, to make long-range point-scoring harder, thereby necessitating the ball having to be worked in.
Again, it’s not the worst idea in the world, but at the end of the day, the will needs to be there.
If things keep going the way they are, we’re surely not far away from the day a goalkeeper points from a puckout.