Backroom know-how provides useful ballast for Cork
Compared to the Rebels, Clare very light in terms of experience of All-Ireland final day
Brian Murphy of Cork, the only player in tomorrow’s starting line-ups with experience of playing in an All-Ireland final. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Statistics are invaluable for ordering our thoughts about the past but in hurling, the most traditional of games, they can also become predictive as the weight of what’s gone before can become exhausting for those trying to break free of historical assumptions.
Tomorrow Cork hurlers arrive in Croke Park fortified by comforting data. For instance, only once in 86 years – and more to the point, in 33 All-Ireland finals – has the county lost an All-Ireland final to anyone except Kilkenny and that was the 1956 epic against Wexford.
Clare are well placed to resist the pressure of historical inevitability. Largely composed of two under-21 winning teams who beat Kilkenny in All-Ireland finals and managed by David Fitzgerald, who played in the county’s great era of the 1990s when they beat all of the big three, they have no reason to blink at the sight of a red jersey.
The edge for Cork may however be more practical than that. Despite Fitzgerald’s three All-Irelands as a player and the experience of taking Waterford to a final five years ago, Clare’s sideline is very light on experience compared to their opponents.
Between Jimmy Barry-Murphy and his selectors, Ger Cunningham, Johnny Crowley, Kieran Kingston and Seánie McGrath there is the collective experiences of 27 senior All-Ireland finals – 19 of which were won. Even team doctor Con Murphy has amassed 24 days of duty between football and hurling.
The last team to have lifted the MacCarthy Cup with no experience of winning All-Irelands was Wexford in 1996 and their manager then, Liam Griffin, nonetheless believes that Cork’s vast assemblage of big-day expertise is an advantage.
“I think it’s huge. At the end of the day, a team is in the hands of its management both in preparation and reacting on the day – the ability to read a game, to have plan A and plan B. It makes a difference because when a game gets away from you on a big day in Croke Park, you won’t get it back.”
That experience he believes is particularly important for teams who are new to senior finals, which covers all of tomorrow’s starting players with the sole exception of Cork’s Brian Murphy.
“It’s a challenge because the occasion starts to get bigger than the match and players can lose focus. So you embrace the whole occasion, make it even bigger than it is and then gradually bring it back down.