Cork v Clare: Rebel hurling faithful are running out of patience

Eoin Keane explains why the repeated failings of the Rebels in big games is pushing supporters to the brink
Cork v Clare: Rebel hurling faithful are running out of patience

Cork supporters bring colour against Limerick during the Munster hurling round-robin at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“And I love you dear, but just how long can I keep singing the same old song”: Kansas City 

DURING the heady days of Kerry football when All-Ireland final appearances came and went as habitually as September itself, Ger Power bestowed the world with a line that in 10 words, summed up both Kerry’s dynastic dominance and the players' general nonchalance towards the whole thing.

When pressed for comment before one of the deciders, Power coolly quipped: “Just put me down for whatever I said last year.”

Writing about Cork hurling is getting to that stage now. Money for old rope; that old, frayed rope that has tethered this team, and indeed their previous incumbents, for what seems an eternity. 

Does anyone really want to read about our defensive frailty again, or our lack of ball-winners? Or lack of everything else. 

So, apologies, but if you’ve come looking for the latest dissection of what went wrong, maybe it’s best to rehash Power’s immortal retort. Just put me down for whatever I said last year. Or the year before that.

By now we’ve become accustomed to the despondency that lingers in the wake of a comprehensive defeat, but there is something particularly maddening about last weekend’s no-show. This one just hits different. 

The All-Ireland final mauling was bad but at least we could take solace in the fact that it was a shot to nothing. Deep down, not even the most ardent of Cork supporters truly believed victory was a conceivable outcome that day. 

Go back further if you wish, if you’re a glutton for that kind of mental anguish. 

Peruse through the annals of dark days that have befallen us over the past 10 years or more and you’d be hard-pressed to find a defeat that left such an acerbic aftertaste. 

Tipp 2016 perhaps? Kingston’s first game and a performance so indolent that the nine-point differential actually reflected kindly on our paltry efforts. Even then, at least we took a punt. 

Sure, the game soon became synonymous with Cork’s calamitous deployment of a sweeper (and subsequent refusal to use one) but Christ, at least we tried something!

What did we try against Limerick? Other than the same kamikaze game plan that has blown up in our faces so spectacularly in the last two national finals. 

Einstein’s witticism pertaining to the definition of insanity is well-worn for a reason you know. 

STRATEGIC NOUS

Back in November, Cork supporters had good reason to believe that the addition of two highly-regarded coaches in Pat Mulcahy and Noel Furlong might infuse the set-up with the strategic nous that seemed so lacking against Limerick last summer. 

There's been little to suggest we’ve learned any lessons at all. 

Instead, we attempted to, once again, thread the ball through the eye of a needle. Or more appropriately, the eye of a storm. We deserved everything we got and more.

These wonted fiascos are, of course, much more multi-faceted than tactical ineptitude. 

But above all else, the most galling aspect of our latest capitulation is that it has solidified the national perception of the Cork hurlers as pushovers, hurling’s soft-touch. 

Cork's Ger Millerick is tackled by Cian Lynch, Kyle Hayes and Graeme Mulcahy of Limerick. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Cork's Ger Millerick is tackled by Cian Lynch, Kyle Hayes and Graeme Mulcahy of Limerick. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

The hard-fought victories over Clare and Kilkenny last year should have put paid to that notion, yet that blemish on our character has proved difficult to shake. 

Roy Keane once revealed how before a game against Spurs, Alex Ferguson’s team-talk amounted to nothing more than “Lads, it’s Tottenham.” Such a cutting appraisal encapsulated their opponent’s reputation as a team who, despite smatterings of individual brilliance, were perpetually undermined by a meek underbelly.

Anthony Nash tackled this perception last week, and in doing so, inadvertently laid bare the litany of problems that lay at our doorstep. 

“We were inconsistent. We got selection and game plans wrong. We were outbattled. Well beaten. But I know we were not soft.” 

Not soft then Anthony, just all of those other things you mentioned. God for that! To be fair, he has a point. 

Whatever softness does reside in the psyche of these Cork hurlers, it is unquestionably exacerbated by the fissures that exist in every other department. An absence of cohesion can easily manifest itself as an absence of work-rate, in the same way a lack of adequate coaching in the tackle can masquerade as a lack of physicality. 

There was a dearth of ball-winners with paws like shovels in Nash’s time too and yet, for a period of time at least, going long from the puck-out wasn’t deemed a completely futile endeavour. 

Mike Casey of Limerick celebrates winning possession. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Mike Casey of Limerick celebrates winning possession. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Nobody is expecting ball to be rained down with snow on it but don’t tell me that an easy tap to the corner-back is the only alternative either.

On Sunday we will travel to Thurles again, in our droves. Perched in the long grass, awaits a Clare team that, from the outset, have been disregarded as also-rans. 

Cork’s previous couple of performances render Clare’s status as underdogs as wholly unwarranted. Lohan will come with a plan and any plan that features Tony Kelly is bound to rattle a few cages. 

Still, two wins from four would probably see Cork stagger punch-drunk through to the latter stages of the championship and given the standard in Leinster, an All-Ireland semi-final berth is certainly not out of the question. 

But somewhere along the line, Limerick or Waterford or any other team worth their salt will be waiting and saying to themselves, “Lads, it’s Cork.”

And that’s just the painful reality of our current standing in the game.

Kingston remarked after the game last Sunday that the defeat wouldn’t define our season and while his stoicism in the aftermath of such humiliation was to be expected, I’m afraid the opposite could well be closer to the truth. 

Unless something drastically improves between now and the end of May, that Limerick game looks set to not only define this season but this entire, wretched era.

The expectation of something different. The promise of something better. But ultimately, nothing but the same old story.

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