|What a year its been in the fortunes of Cork GAA!! It is ending the same way it ended in 2007, in stalemate. 2009 will also start like 2008, with this time calls on the Hurling Manager to step aside. In recent days I have heard tales emerge that something is going to happen in January that will see an end game in this standoff but I remain unconvinced . The fifth selector has yet to be confirmed by Gerald McCarthy. Could this be this be a bargaining chip by the Manager in allowing the Players to nominate this fifth selector. A possibility for this position could be someone like Mark Landers, Brian Corcoran or Alan Browne, people who would have the total trust of the players . But what if the players were to nominate Donal Og Cusack as that selector, this could lead to more conflict as even the biggest fans of the Cloyne man would have to admit he is under increasing pressure to hold onto his place. Donal Og would do well to remember that his mentor Ger Cunningham probably played on too long in goals for Cork although the competition for his position is nowhere near as competitive as it is in 2009 compared to 1998.
2008 started for the die hard Cork Supporters on Monday night the 4th of February with a march from Parnell Place to the South Mall in support of the Hurlers and Footballers struggle against the County Board. This march was led by the usual suspects with the Sombreros, Bag Pipes and Drums, these individuals are also known to some as the “ LOTA BRIGADE “ . It also led to a passionate speech from the South Mall calling on Teddy Holland to resign forthwith.
Looking back on 2008, starting with the Footballers; it was a case that is ever so frequent with Cork Football of going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Conor Counihan bedded in well in the League having only started in his position in mid February. Their Championship started with a Houdini recovery against Limerick with two scrappy late goals to rob the homeside of a famous victory. These comebacks were to be more prevalent as the season went on. The Munster Final against Kerry was played in horrendous conditions similar to a famous ambush achieved by the Rebels in 1983. The soaking handed out to Cork fans in the unsheltered area of Pairc Ui Chaoimht, that day was well worth it. How coincidental that in 1983 the Matchwinner was Tadhg Og Murphy from Glanmire and 25 years later in similar conditions Michael Cussen from the same parish turned the game on its head. This led us to Croke Park and a meeting with Kildare which is best well forgotten about as the only good thing to come out of this game was a sublime goal from John Hayes. It was also a case in point that Cork are most vulnerable in a game that follows a victory against the Kingdom.
The two games in August in Croke Park against the Kingdom summed up all that is good and bad about Cork Football. It was a case of coming back from the dead to gain a draw which led to a confidence that suggested we can finish them off the next day only to come so close but again fail to finish them off when we had them clinging to the ropes. The first game staged one of the most remarkable comebacks seen in Croke Park and it was ever the most sweet considering Maurice Fitzgerald was sitting in front of me and Ger O’Keeffe a few rows behind. If only Cork could have won the kickout after the John Hayes penalty and got a match winning score. This contributor could not bear to watch that pressure kick instead blocking his eyes and waiting for the reaction of the crowd to inform him if the kick was successful. It was interesting to note that Maurice Fitzgerald prefers to look at the big screen when his protégé Brian Sheehan kicks frees rather than watching him kick them 50 or 60 yards away. The replay was a case of a great comeback again and so close and yet so far and moral victories and that the Rebels are getting closer to recapturing Sam Maquire . To someone like myself born in the early seventies, to see Cork win an All-Ireland title in 1989 after an absence of sixteen years, it felt like an eternity a day never seen possible to me. Who would have thought that after that glorious victory against Meath in 1990 that it will be as long as it was from 1973 to 1989 to taste more success.
Turning to the hurlers it was one hell of a rollercoaster ride, starting with the team selection chosen for the Tipperary game. This was a team chosen with an eye for the future but only proved a fatal error against the old enemy and it can be now seen as possibly a watershed for Tipperary Hurling winning in Rebel territory and showing that this victory has seen a return to the swagger associated with Tipperary Hurling. That game mystifies to many, how Cork could lose control of a game that they were well in control of winning after blowing Tipp away in whirlwind fashion midway through the first half, only to collapse in the second half and play very raggedly. This defeat also could have led to increased tension between the team and the management with decisions made by the sideline baffling to say the least.
The defeat against Tipperary led us to the scenic route and a Qualifier joust with Dublin which was not very awe inspiring to the supporters eyes but a win is a win and it created the perfect foil for the media in terms the expectation of a victory against Galway in Thurles. The rollercoaster ride given by this team to its supporters since 1999 has been unbelievable and to those who witnessed the victory against Galway, I would say it was better than any of the All Ireland victories of 1999 2004 and 2005. The showing of unbridled passion to players from supporters and vice versa was something that will live long in the memory of many coupled with a performance of unbelievable courage given against the odds. It’s a match I look forward to looking at again over the Christmas break. It was ever more the sweet considering who was in charge of Galway and the generous odds of a Cork victory given by the bookmakers availed to by many it showed write off Cork at your peril particularly in Thurles.
A potential banana skin lied in waiting the following week in the shape of Clare. It also showed a unity between the Players and Management before the throw in when they joined each other in a huddle before the National Anthem. The game itself saw Cork somewhat a little of the pace shown by the Banner and trailing at half time by eight points. This game like the Galway one showed that some games can be won and lost on the sideline and it must be said that the selectors made very astute moves to tilt the game in Cork’s balance . Contributions from the bench from Timmy McCarthy, Kieran Murphy and Neil Ronan guaranteed Cork a two point victory. On the train home from Thurles that evening, in the carriage where I was seated, led to a chant of “ TIMMY FOR AN ALL STAR “ which led to a wry smile from Dr Con Murphy who was sitting nearby at the time.
The Semi Final against Kilkenny was built up by the media of something of a Judgement Day, something akin to what you might see across the water in coverage of the Premiership. It also led to Cork Supporters finally being given the chance to see the Hurlers and Footballers on the one bill in Croke Park. In these recessionary times ahead it might be something we might see more of in the future. The game itself against the Cats was a question of “What might have been” but given the effort put in by the players in the lung busting comebacks and victories against Galway and Clare, it was always going to be difficult. The start by the Rebels was very promising in a very tense and robust opening. Goal chances not availed of and nervy first touch by some forwards proved crucial to the final outcome. When Kilkenny went into overdrive in the last fifteen minutes of the first half there was to be only going to be one outcome. A second half mini comeback could have been oh so different if a goal could have come our way.
What now for 2009, its been a long time since Cork have been have quoted as big as 8/1 for an All Ireland and with the draw for the Munster Championship been somewhat unkind to them it going to be very difficult. One of the early things to look forward to in 2009 will be a trip to Thurles to take on Tipperary in the league under lights in February, that will be round one with round two being a second joust with them in Thurles in the Munster Championship. If the current stand off if is not settled between the Players Versus the Manager/County Board, those above matches could be somewhat embarrassing if a team of rookies are all we will have to put out in the League and Championship.
One remembers a comment made in 1990 that “ DONKEY’S DON’T WIN DERBIES “ lets hope for the proud tradition that is Cork Hurling that those comments don’t come home to roost against Tipperary in 2009.