“So much for the revolution”
As Kilkenny and Tipperary prepare for Sunday week’s All Ireland final, whatever happened to last year’s hurling revolutionaries?
That headline comes from the first line of Malachy Clerkin’s report on Tipperary beating Cork in the hurling semi-final the other week. Last year’s revolution, the one we previously wrote about at great length, seems like a fable from another age given how things have shaken out in the last few months. You get a strong feeling of sourness from both pundits and punters about the return of the old regime. Not these feckers again. Those of us within these counties are feeling unloved – again.
No-one expected this. Cork were odds-on to beat Tipp. Even such noted Premier County totems as Nicky English were going that way – sure, even the local paper at home was all Cork (funnily enough, I can’t find that prediction from The Nationalist online). Kilkenny were also yesterday’s men. Didn’t Cork beat them last year? The jig was up for Brian Cody and his bunch of merry men.
This was not supposed to happen. But it did. People will talk about the general weakness of the opposition Kilkenny had to face, but they still had to win those games against Galway and Dublin. The game against Limerick showed that the old dog is best for the hard road no matter how many young gorsoons you throw at them.
No-one expected Cork not to turn up – certainly, not the rebels around me in the Cusack stand whose boisterous mood lasted about 20 minutes and who were on the road home once the second Tipp goal was blazed in – but no-one expected Eamon O’Shea’s grand plan to come to fruition with quite that bloom. Sure, it’ll be a different matter next day out with Kilkenny unlikely to give the likes of Seamus Callanan or Bubbles O’Dwyer that kind of dancing room. There’s no way on earth Darren Gleeson will be able to deliver such laser-guided puck-outs without his targets getting shut down. But on that day on that pitch against that opposition, it all worked magnificently.
You could reverse the last coda of that last line to address the lack of a revolution this year: it didn’t work magnificently. Last year’s victors Clare were a shadow of the team from the previous campaign and no amount of MiWadi and biscuits could change that. Wexford had plenty of vim but they just didn’t have the hurling to beat Limerick. Limerick seem to take great exception to the sight of the blue and gold, yet they were unable to beat anyone else. Coming close against Kilkenny is not the same as beating them (as the Premier found out in ’09). The less said about Galway and Dublin the better for all concerned. I’ll leave room for a sigh and a few prayers here.
There will be all sorts of reaons given for this in the short term. In fact, the blame game is already in full swing. Donal Og Cusack was quick out the gap in his lovely suit on The Sunday Game (and in print) to lash into the Cork County Board, there were various excuses about the time between games (a lengthy lay-off between Leinster final and All-Ireland semi was no bother to Kilkenny, mind) and a general feeling of “oh” has dominated proceedings all round. Last year’s summer of magical hurling results and fantastic new heroes and groundbreaking matches seems to have been all for nought.
What amazes me is that so many people expected a repeat of last year, as if the old regimes would just stay hibernating for the whole season. Aside from the usual problem around great expectations, it’s always a dangerous, risky assumption to think the likes of Kilkenny are dead and buried. True, the Tipp team who wintered through the league campaign did not have the look of All Ireland finalists about them at any stage up to July, but once they got going (there was a 20 minute patch against Galway when even the one per cent of doubters in the county changed their mind), they got going. We have the best two teams in the land lining up again in Croker on the first Sunday of next month.
The medium and long term for the revolution? Back to the drawing board, lads. People can go on and on about Clare and Cork’s no-shows this summer, but I’m a lot more interested in the reasons for Dublin’s failure to come up to the mark yet again. A lot of effort and resources has gone into the county’s hurling revolution at every level but the breakthrough didn’t happen again. They’ve come close in the past (OK, close-ish) and still, it hasn’t happened. There are an increasing number of times when they give even fecking Galway a run in the fecking Galway stakes. Anthony Daly has done a fantastic job yet even he must be puzzled by this failure to go one up. And no, I don’t think MiWadi and biscuits are the answer.
Back to the drawing board. Wexford and Clare have under-age teams coming through which are full of promise, but it’s the switch-up and match-up and mash-up from there which needs to be finetuned. How do you turn these brilliant under-age teams into teams who will go onto win and win and win? In Tipp, we thought it was going to be all gravy back in 2010 after scalping Kilkenny in the senior and walloping Galway in the under-21s, but we all know how that one went. Four years on, we’re waiting for a second one to fall. Even in the old quarters, it takes time.
The problem is that time requires patience, both on and off the field. You could argue that those teams who are not hurling into September have already had loads of both time and patience and yet, nothing has happened. The same teams dominate, the same teams reach the finishing line. But that’s the challenge, that’s the level you have to strive to hit.
It’s about quality and that means meeting and beating the big guns. There are many of my countypeople who’d prefer anyone but Kilkenny on Sunday week yet I’d disagree with this. As much as I’m sick and tired of losing to them (the league final in Thurles a few months ago was particularly low), you have to judge yourself by the best possible standards and that means beating the Cats. Kilkenny will start as total favourites for the game and they’ll be full of bluster in pursuit of 10s, but they know and we know that all of that matters little when Barry Kelly blows the whistle, throws in the sliothar and the timber starts to fly. That’s when revolutions are paused and battles begin.