Cork emerge reborn from the bowl of decay


LOCKER ROOM:The seemingly preordained script of an emerging Tipp laying waste a fading Cork was left in tatters in the out-of-date Park, writes TOM HUMPHRIES

THEY SAY that during Famine times the good people of Montenotte could gaze down from their hill and see the starving peasantry milling about in the city and docklands below. Distressed as the folks on the hill may have been, they can scarcely have pulled the drapes closed any quicker than they do now when they look out on a drab day and see the starving peasantry that is the Cork hurling public milling about within the bowl of decay that is Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

What a shame to have to play out great exhibitions of the world’s most beautiful game on such a dowdy stage. In America they give their stadia a 20-25-year lifespan and are constantly regenerating their sports infrastructure as a means of revitalising urban areas. It’s 34 years since Páirc Uí Chaoimh was refurbished to its current state. Time has been unkind. So have the elements. So have been the changes in stadium design.

It is not for ourselves that we fret and cavil. Nope. Despite the backdrop we are actually well-pampered. From the time you hit the convenient press parking area (Joe Deane Was My Valet) and are taken swiftly via elevator to the luxurious press suites the Leeside experience is a joyous one for the media drone. For the players below, vacuum-packed into the suffocatingly small dressingrooms and for spectators braving the frightening tunnel which runs along beneath the length of the stand the place is an unpleasant kip however.

On a sunny day when it heaves with beery humanity the Park barely passes muster. Its cookie cutter shape and the lack of adequate seating or shade on three sides give it a faux charm when skies are blue. The converse is the dank latrinal feel the place gets when skies are grey. Hurling deserves better. Cork deserves better. We’ll forgive Christy Cooney if he goes all parochial and makes it a priority to leave his home county with a better living room than it has now.

As for the hurling? The game refuses to be fettered by the limits of its surroundings or the neglect of its caretakers. It needs to grow however. The best thing that could happen to the game would be if in five to ten years’ time we were talking about, say, Carlow, Dublin and Clare as the game’s ‘Big Three’. For now we have Cork,Tipp and Kilkenny just as we always have.

Cork and Tipp came to the Park yesterday and gave us one of those days which threw up all our certainties in the air and returned them to us as question marks.

For the past while we have been hoarding certainties like suits playing the market. Tipp came closest last year. Therefore they will come closest again this year. Cork are old and war-rotted. Their half back line should come under the auspices of some kind of salvage deal. Their forwards can’t get scores.

When it was done and dusted in the Park yesterday all we knew was everything we know is wrong. Tipp’s second-half performance was as close to flatlining as a team can come. Cork scored three goals and could have had two to three more. Tipp’s half-forward line was devoured by Cork.

It was an odd game in almost every respect. Aisake Ó hAilpín disposed of Padraig Maher in 24 minutes. Various other ploys to tie Aisake to the earth we all live on failed after that. Cathal Naughton stayed at midfield when we thought he would migrate early on to the wings there to indulge his fondness for running like a prairie dog. Seán Óg was himself again. Eoin Cadogan played with a ferocity and brilliance that makes the Rock seem like an effete character in the memory.

Tipp’s Eoin Kelly failed to score from play. Lar Corbett seemed to evaporate after a fine start. Noel McGrath was eclipsed. John O’Brien had a ten-minute spell where he looked as if he had come to grips with John Gardiner. That was an illusion too.

What did we learn? Tipp need a good long look under the hood before they hit the road for the qualifiers. Denis Walsh, as quiet and inscrutable as an oriental philosopher with writer’s block all through the winter, seems to be the real deal.

And Aisake is here to stay. Good. Aisake isn’t Setanta. And he isn’t Seán Óg and a lot of the time he can look as awkward as large breasts on a frog but Aisake is pure theatre. The best moments are when his slender hand reaches into the heavens and plucks the ball down and you can see the forces of destruction gathering around him as he floats back to earth but he has an indefatigable optimism about him and as soon as he lands he begins flailing away trying to make good his escape. The crowd love it. He gives Cork an option.

He got the man of the match award afterwards and with a lovable sense of comedy almost dropped the thing. Many of us would have given it marginally to Eoin Cadogan. And we would pay good money to see Cadogan and Aisake marking each other in a full-blooded training game.

Tipp passed the spring and seemed cryogenically frozen waiting for the league and all that bother to be over so that they could take off again at the spot they finished in last year, second and gaining. The qualifiers won’t trouble them unduly but yesterday will have planted doubts in their heads which may not resurface until some white-hot afternoon of high summer. They say you have to lose one to win one. It’s probably true, but you have to have won a couple to have the sort of belief in yourself Cork had yesterday.

The hurling world looked over Denis Walsh’s shoulder as he played hand after experimental hand in the league. Just looking and learning. They wondered if he was the sucker at the table or the shark. Now we know.

It was a satisfying day in the Park freighted with surprise and promise. If those qualities are the theme of the hurling summer we will be happy whatever the ending.

Fogra: My friend Roisin Collins placed into my hand last week perhaps the most useful book ever written. Where’s The Match is compiled by Kadee Morgan, Orlaith Power and Gemma Whelan and it offers direction to every GAA club in Dublin. Plus sat-nav co-ordinates. If like me you’ve spent one third of your life driving around Dublin looking for pitches which may not actually exist, this book will change your life. Available on \ or at \ for a mere €8. Every home should have one.