By Brendan Boylan,
They say that when Tiger Woods twirls his club in a certain way after taking a shot, you know he’s in the zone. If the fist pump appears, his fellow competitors should be very wary indeed. In his case, it is most striking because the man very rarely displays any kind of emotion. GAA people never have any such problems however, whatever the circumstances.
Yet, there are recognisable signs too that something extraordinary may be about to happen.
One of the best things about modern technology in televisions is the ability to record something while watching something else. Video recorders are nearly obsolete now but the ability to record things on the box itself has offset the loss. Recently, during a quiet few hours, a few rounds of National Hurling League action that were recorded a while back were caught up on.
Unfortunately, what was seemingly an epic encounter between Kilkenny and Dublin wasn’t among the stored lot. There was plenty of informative action to mull over. And one of the most obvious things to emerge therein was an ominous resurgence in form running through the veins of Cork hurling.
The game needs them, and as many other competitive teams as there can be. Think back to Tiger and the golf club – over the years I’ve noticed a similar scenario in hurling. You know the Rebel dander is up when John Gardiner does a similar twirl of the hurl before lashing a long distance free goalward.
Cork have been hurling’s sleeping giants for the last while and the scene has been all the poorer without them. During last summer though, even though there was a sense all wasn’t well in the senior camp, there were signs that small ball fortunes by the Lee were on the uptake. The epic Munster U-21 HC encounter between Ger Fitzgerald’s charges and Limerick is one of the enduring sporting memories of 2011. Home advantage eventually won the night for the Treaty men, but it was clear that a wave of new young talent was flowing through both counties.
Dual star Aidan Walsh took the individual plaudits on the night, posting eight points from play, but perhaps even more significant were the contributions of others like Luke O’Farrell and Jamie Coughlan – equally as talented as his similar sounding Rugby counterpart – and Conor Lehane – which gave a clear indication the nucleus of another talented team was afoot.
As encouraging as that was though, maybe even more important has been the return to the fold of some of the older brigade who didn’t feature under the previous regime. The hurling landscape is a better place with Sean Og O’hAilpin and a few more on the go. Even if it was disappointing to see Ben O’Connor hang up his home made hurl!
Now, it will be said that things weren’t too rosy in the Waterford garden at the time Jimmy Barry Murphy’s second coming got off to the perfect start, but, it has been the manner in which they’ve gone about their business in the interim – most notably beating Kilkenny – that has been most eye catching. Right, so the Cats rearguard was somewhat depleted, but the same team roared back by defeating Dublin – despite almost unthinkably conceding six goals.
In typical Cody Cat fashion however, just as the concession of the said sextet will have raised more defensive questions, the All Ireland Champions dished out a right pasting to Galway, scoring 3-26 and, more pointedly, keeping a clean sheet. Elsewhere, after losing to Kilkenny, again, and seeing a point slip away against Dublin, Tipperary seem to have adjusted well enough to life Lar-less, amassing some huge scoring totals in the process. Chances are Corbett will be not-so-dramatically back in harness before harvest time, even without him they may pose the holders plenty of questions.
Maybe not the most stern ones however. The gambler in me thinks there is a bit of value in Cork for the All Ireland SHC at 9/1. It mightn’t be a bad time to go against the establishment and side with the Rebels! Rebels with a cause, wounded lions, call them what you like, you can be sure Cork do not like where they’ve been in the hurling world for the past few seasons, eclipsed by Kilkenny and Tipp and to a lesser extent Waterford and Limerick and Dublin.
With due respect to Clare and Limerick, you’d expect Kilkenny to beat whichever of them wins the second tier of the top division. For Cork, the feeling would be that having taken Kilkenny already, they won’t mind playing anyone. Cork/Tipp takes on a life its own however, much like when Cork and Kerry clash in football. Or Meath and Dublin or Galway and Mayo for that matter.Regardless of how the NHL pans out though, where Kilkenny and Tipp have enjoyed dual dominance of the entire scene in recent years, this year there appears to be more genuine contenders. Cork may be foremost among them.