OLYMPIAN Steve Redgrave gave a talk to aspiring rowers in the UK one time where he dropped a great simple line: the favourites normally win.
Redgrave had won five Olympic golds by this time and his point was that if you want to be a serious consistent winner at any sport you need to embrace the feeling of being the best, that being the best at something is a much better long-term plan than trying to compete all the time as an underdog.
Basically, that being better at something should be an advantage and there is usually a simple reason why the best team or athlete or players win more often than not.
That line came into our heads reading the match reports from the local championships over the last few weeks and last weekend’s hurling games for example were striking for the list of Cork players as match-winners and/or main scorers.
There was Declan Dalton with his 1-10 for Fr O’Neill’s, where his free-taking was as superb as always (as Mark Landers mentioned on commentary, a team just can’t give up frees anywhere within any sort of striking distance against them) and his match-up against Brian Murphy provided one of those fascinating past v future sights we get at club level sometimes.
Murphy did little wrong but a simple high ball at one stage allowed Dalton use his power to manoeuvre possession and then his striking ability to smack a shot to the net from the ground for a statement kind of goal – you could see Murphy’s instinctive competitiveness then with his reaction.
There was Conor Lehane with one of his ridiculous scores, dismantling Ballyhea with 3-11, including three goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half to turn the game.
There’s Darragh Fitzgibbon’s 0-11 for Charleville. One different scoring addition was Colm Spillane, returning from injury in a new position at centre-forward, given freedom to just go out and use his skills for Castlelyons.
He’s got 2-13 in his first two games. His goal last weekend, pouncing on a loose ball, using that cleverness to find space and pick up quickly and get his shot away, was a perfect example of a top player just having the technique and awareness to do the right thing no matter where it is on the pitch.
Two standouts from the catalogue? Na Piarsaigh’s young forwards showing the spark of potential, with Evan Sheehan, Daire Connery and Craig Hanifin, all members of Cork U20 squad from last year, sharing 0-15 of their score against the Barr’s.
And most interesting of all, Sars’ even younger forward line that ripped Douglas apart, with most of them 21 and 22 and having the lovely mix of pace and energy of that age but with the quality and ability of more than just pure potential. Jack O’Connor’s two goals were perfect examples. His first showed pure willingness and confidence to go for goal when the chance presents, O’Connor took possession out on the right with a lovely first touch, blasted past his man on the outside, made space and hammered low to the net from a narrow angle.
A point could have been accepted at any stage; the goal was reward for bravery and skill. His second, that awareness of a gap opening when four defenders got drawn towards the ball, that tiny moment of knowing where to make the run and then the finish that left no doubt.
Daniel Hogan, only 18 and a Cork minor last year, came into a big game, plucked a high ball on top of the full-forward line and knocked to the net, a goal for a more established forward to score. To continue the theme of Cork players taking over by the way, Shane Kington’s 12 points (six from play) were just a footnote. That’s a decent weekend’s work from the go-to players from clubs around the county.
There are some obvious and not-so-obvious explanations here.
One, the best players generally end up playing for Cork at some stage, there’s a reason why they’re playing for Cork and a reason why they’re outshining everyone at club level.
Two, the days of finding young starlets or unknown experienced clubmen in a club game that could be useful to an inter-county set-up are unlikely to materialise in reality. We had this notion before club action returned that there might be an opening for players to step up from club and put their names out there with a run of form and influential games but players already in and around the inter-county scene already are dominating more than ever.
There’s something else at play too though, the idea that the extra preparation time gives an inter-county player that chance to more properly integrate into the club team for the first time in an age this summer. Imagine a normal season where a club is playing away through a league campaign and developing a certain rhythm of play without its county players and then a county player gets dropped back into the mix with maybe a week or two to get the balance and positioning and role right.
The county player might have been playing a certain type of game for a Cork team with a specific role and now has to adjust as well to a different kind of level in regards to speed and positioning and tactics. You can see why it might not immediately click in that circumstance.
Players have been with their clubs now for weeks though, training in the group, developing combinations with players more naturally, maybe more comfortable in the environment given a longer spell than normal to prepare.
It allows more experimentation even with the Colm Spillane try out in attack or the Daniel Kearney to centre-back move as well. We saw one player mention just the sense of being a club player again gave a bit more freedom to perform, apart a little from the expectation.
The quality is coming out though, an aside to watch for the rest of the championships here.