THERE'S a very famous line in the movie The Princess Bride.
The Sicilian character repeats the phrase “inconceivable” time and again to describe something that’s actually happened and his Spanish companion replies. “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”
It feels a little like that in the hurling championship right now, where seemingly reasonable truths from one week get blown apart a week later, where the thought process and language that’ve always been used don’t really work anymore.
Basically, it feels like the kind of competition now where long-term analysis (and by long-term, we mean anything more than seven days) is more or less redundant, where predictions from even the most informed and clever hurling people just cannot be expected to contain the randomness of energy, form, mentality and pure want that flips weekly.
This format has altered the dynamic, where reactions to performances and results clash with momentum and it’s more or less impossible to know how things are going to fall.
We know less than we think.
The game has changed anyway, and it’s been interesting again to note the various reactions to Cork’s performance last weekend, the range of explanations for the turnaround from wanting it more to having a proper defensive structure, from doing the traditional basics to owning the tactical battle for that middle third.
In some ways the Cork/Limerick game summed up hurling right now, Cork (written off as timid and lacking more or less every key ingredient all week) outplayed the All-Ireland champs through a mix of all the above reasons and won a game the only way possible – imposing their game with aggression and intent, winning control of the middle third with bodies, dominating the spaces and use of possession cleverly inside both 45s.
It had all the intensity and pressure on the ball that modern hurling brings and it was won by the team who were that bit quicker to the ball and thereby controlled possession and the spaces.
Just like the speed of modern soccer has been shifted by the pressing and intensity of managers like Guardiola and Klopp, hurling games can only be won if played at that level.
Decisions were made in the game that encompassed all these things.
At one stage at a crucial spell in the second half, Darragh Fitzgibbon made two small-detail game-changing runs, one forward and one back.
Cork committed numbers to win a ruck ball out on the right wing, got clean possession and as Mark Coleman came away with the ball, you could see Fitzgibbon take off into the open grass in recognition of a chance about to open up.
Coleman’s vision and ability picked out Seamus Harnedy who transferred it on and Fitzgibbon finished it for a point.
Barely a couple of minutes later, Limerick drove forward with real purpose to get behind Cork’s middle defensive line, Cian Lynch drifted slightly off Fitzgibbon into a gap and a position to make an extra man or take a shot at goal himself. Fitzgibbon never stopped tracking though, made that tough leg-burning 40-yard chase and got back for a hook to save what looked like a certain goal.
That’s a four-point swing right there from Fitzgibbon’s ability to see danger on both sides and willingness to run both ways.
That kind of appetite for running and knowhow on playing through the spaces shone through everything Cork did well.
Just like Tipp’s goals in week one reflected their instincts, Cork’s goal was pure modern Cork – the willingness to use Nash with a short pass in a danger area, Mark Coleman’s freedom and head-up hurling, Luke Meade’s intelligent finding of space and touch, Bill Cooper’s hard support running to give that passing option and then, well, Patrick Horgan being Patrick Horgan.
The biggest new takeaway?
Hardly Horgan’s continued excellence, with moments of pure class (the awareness – he didn’t even jump - touch and finish for the goal) and proper mentality. At one stage of the second half his play-card read bad miss from free, decent scored free, sloppy miss from play, a beauty of a score from play, all within less than four minutes.
The main adjustment would be the re-emergence of Alan Cadogan and the realisation again that basically, that’s exactly why Cork wanted him back so badly. Cadogan just kept doing things that nobody else can quite do for Cork.
A score with his first ball from that diagonal Mark Coleman pass into his paw.
Those Anthony Nash puck-outs that landed over the Limerick half-back line and bounced into Cadogan’s zone were strange in both that the Cork goalie ignored very obvious options closer to belt the ball downfield and mostly that you don’t expect to see that sort of delivery not being contested in the air, where Cadogan had managed to manipulate the spaces to somehow manufacture a one-v-one situation with a bouncing ball in front from a long puck-out.
Cork got two scores from those and another from a booming Nash clearance that allowed Horgan and Cadogan work a point off a loose ball.
He took another long diagonal pass for his last score to point off balance, where Cork managed again to create a one-v-one situation with space either side.
The need to congest the middle thirds does lead to more freedom inside the 45s and the Horgan-Cadogan combination has a natural movement that asks questions of opposition full-back lines.
At one stage of the second half, you could see Horgan drift out towards the 45 and even though his man didn’t really want to leave Cadogan one-v-one in the world of space, he couldn’t really leave Horgan on his own out on the wing either.
Donal Óg Cusack mentioned post-game that hurling isn’t a game of one-v-ones battles anymore, so making the opposition defensive unit do things it doesn’t want to do is part of the battle.
The Horgan-Cadogan duo offers something of interest for sure - Horgan’s ability to accumulate matchwinning tallies, Cadogan’s ability to hit matchwinning scores, the combined threat asks almost every kind of question of a full-back line and Aidan Walsh adds that final one.
It looks a game-changer for Cork. Until the next game at least.