IN hindsight, it’s a great pity that Italy did not win the 1994 World Cup.
Leaving aside the fact that the Republic of Ireland would have been able to claim a moral victory having overcome the Italians in the opening game, it would have been fairer in football terms. While the historical stereotypes are that Brazil play flowing football and everything Italy do is based on defence, the two sides in 1994 went against type.
A functional Brazil relied on Romário and Bebeto to sprinkle gold-dust and, while Italy were powered by the individual brilliance of Roberto Baggio, it was a side underpinned by the innovative coaching of Arrigo Sacchi.
While he didn’t enjoy success after the Italy job, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was the man who laid the foundation for the dominance of Milan in the 1990s, with the club claiming back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and ’90 – something not matched until Real Madrid’s three-in-a-row from 2016-18. In a new book, Immortals, Sacchi relives the journey to that 4-0 win over Steaua Bucharest in Barcelona in May 1989 and gives an insight into his approach.
An interesting line early on underlines his belief in taking the game to the opposition: “On one side, you had tactics – waiting for an opposition error. On the other side was strategy – a plan of action successfully carried out.”
Certainly, watching Cork hurlers this year, there is a sense of a strategy and, by and large, successful execution of same, even if it took a while to get going in Saturday night’s Allianz HL Division 1 semi-final against Kilkenny.
One moment which helped to sway the momentum came in the 14th minute, when Kilkenny led by 1-4 to 0-3, having been six points ahead prior to that. From a short Kilkenny puckout – Cork stood off the full-back line for most restarts to try to crowd matters out the field – David Blanchfield played a ball up the line to Eoin Cody, who had already scored three points by that stage.
However, his progress was halted by a combination of Ciarán Joyce and Robbie O’Flynn before Joyce came away with the ball. In the ensuing play, Conor Lehane set up Alan Connolly for his first point.
It was a passage of play that featured four of Cork’s stronger performers, with Connolly in sparkling form throughout while O’Flynn and Lehane worked hard up and down the wings. Left half-back Joyce continued to add to his burgeoning reputation, holding Walter Walsh scoreless – though the Kilkenny man was unlucky to see a goal effort hit the post.
Manager Kieran Kingston praised the Castlemartyr man’s performance afterwards.
“It’s well-documented, he’s a great young lad, only learning his trade still,” he said.
“He’s still only 19, not even 20 yet, and he’s been very good for us, as has Daire O’Leary and the rest of the U20s.
There are calls for Joyce to be played at centre-back, where he excelled in the two successful All-Ireland U20 campaigns (albeit playing as a spare full-back in the 2021 final against Galway, with O’Leary out injured), with the knock-on effect of freeing up Mark Coleman.
However, to echo the aforementioned Sacchi, Cork have a strategy, one that involves giving the opposition something to think about first and foremost, and Coleman is key from an attack-building point of view. He is generally the point of contact for short puckouts – though sometimes he will get free between the 20m and 45m lines, allowing him greater passing options – while he is often available as an out-ball for a fellow defender when a break is won.
The Blarney man isn’t a man-marker but he doesn’t have to be, especially with Ger Millerick able to drop back from midfield to put a squeeze on if necessary.
Ultimately, Joyce is in superb form where he is. And, while his 19th-minute point on Saturday came in the number 7 slot, it’s not as if he is constricted in his movements; that turnover on Cody came between the right corner-back and right half-back positions.
Joyce may well inherit the number 6 shirt in the near future, but time is certainly on his side there – Ronan Curran didn’t make his championship debut until he was 22 – and the current set-up is working well for Cork.
· Congratulations to Adrian Cullinane, who was chosen for the recent competition to win a copy of. Published by Hero Books, it is available nationwide now.