Cork hurling will only thrive if the bitter strikes are finally put behind us

Cork hurling will only thrive if the bitter strikes are finally put behind us
Donal Óg Cusack and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín with the Liam McCarthy Cup in 2005. They're together now working in the minor set-up. Picture: Daragh Mac Sweeney/Provision

LAST weekend’s Sunday Game made for compulsive viewing for Cork hurling fans.

Seán Óg Ó hAilpín’s very honest interview surrounding the strikes of the earlier part of the new millennium was followed by another look at one of the great games of the modern era, Cork and Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2018 in Croke Park.

Unfortunately, neither brought back too many good memories for the red army, the strikes splitting the county into two, probably one of the most divisive issues to occur on Leeside in the history of the game.

There is no point in going back over old ground now, two thrilling All-Ireland victories followed in 2004 and 2005 following the first strike and as the Na Piarsaigh club man pointed out on the programme, the players would have ended up being a laughing stock if they hadn’t backed up the stance that they took when they won those two titles.

Of course, it did not end there and another standoff followed a few years later when Cork icon Gerald McCarthy was caught in the middle and forced out of his role as team boss.

The fact that it was the Barrs legend made the situation even worse, one of Cork’s greatest hurlers and servants being immersed in all of this.

Ó hAilpín did not hold back on the programme when he stated that strike was filthy, callous and cold battle.

Very strong language indeed from another Cork icon, words that have not been used before.

“Twelve years on, not a day goes by that I don’t think about what could have been done differently.

“There are certain actions in hindsight, I can’t speak for other players but there are certain things that I said, that on proper reflection I might have been better off keeping my mouth shut.”

It’s now years later but the honesty of that utterance from the outstanding Cork defender has to be admired.

In some quarters in the county, the players who led that revolt have never really been fully forgiven but after what we witnessed on Sunday night perhaps it’s time to put that sorry episode fully behind us now.

And the appointment of Donal Óg Cusack and the Na Piarsaigh man to the Cork minor set-up has certainly been hugely positive although it remains to be seen when we will see their charges in action.

The bottom line is, there are no winners in this sort of situation but time should be a great healer.

To the Cork and Limerick All-Ireland semi-final of 2018, a game of hurling of the highest quality that eventually, after 90 minutes, went against Cork.

On the previous day, the other semi-final between Clare and Galway had ended in a draw as well after extra-time, a weekend of wonder in headquarters.

Time will again be a great healer but Cork players and supporters will wonder for a long time how that game was not closed out when the team in red had led by six points by the 63rd minute of regulation time.

Unfortunately, they didn’t and the fact that Limerick did not score a goal in whittling down that Cork lead probably makes it even more galling.

Cork boss John Meyler pointed out on the Sunday Game that Cork should have been able to close out the game but he did point to the game’s defining moment in the dying embers when Tommy Quaid somehow denied Seamus Harnedy what would surely have been a winning score.

Limerick’s Nickie Quaid blocks a shot from Seamus Harnedy of Cork in 2018 at Croke Park. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Limerick’s Nickie Quaid blocks a shot from Seamus Harnedy of Cork in 2018 at Croke Park. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Down the years in Croke Park, there have been many memorable saves by goalkeepers in various county colours, the legendary save by Art Foley in 1956 from Ring and Martin Coleman’s terrific stop from Wexford’s Christy Kehoe in 1977.

They are just two of many but the stop from Quaid from Harnedy, the sheer bravery of it has to be right up there with any of the best.

Quaid was simply fearless in that one moment.

Limerick, of course, used their bench so effectively that Sunday, the introduction of Shane Dowling being a masterstroke by team boss John Kiely. Another sub, Pat Ryan impacted heavily too with a splendid goal in extra-time.

Limerick went on to win the All-Ireland a few weeks later and the entire country rejoiced in that but it could well have been Cork who brought home the McCarthy Cup only for that stunning stop by Quaid.

Of course, for the neutrals that day in Croke Park it was sheer bliss, a game of exceptional quality embellished by some outstanding individual displays and some never to be forgotten scores.

Conor Lehane delivered a sensational Cork goal but it was all to no avail in the end.

On that day it was very much a case of the winner takes it all.

There might be no games going on at the moment but the Sunday Game is providing plenty of talking points

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