Perspective lost in rush to judgement
Surprise result an unreliable indicator for both Clare and Kilkenny
Published 20/04/2016 | 02:30
Since he died 140 years before the GAA was founded, Alexander Pope certainly didn't have hurling in mind when he poetically portrayed both an unquenchable zeal for the new and a stubborn reluctance to shed the old as conditions best avoided.
'Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.'
Basically, his message was: steady on there, folks - balance always has its merits.
Kilkenny's defeat by Clare last Sunday has sparked a bushfire of instant judgements, many of which ignore a golden rule: don't be overly impressed by the last enterprising performance you've seen or excessively influenced by the most recent poor display.
No, Kilkenny haven't hit the wall with a shuddering wallop, no more than they were supposedly miles ahead of everyone else prior to last Sunday.
And no, Clare haven't suddenly found the magic button to launch them towards an orbit that no-one else will reach this summer.
There's always an over-reaction when Kilkenny lose a game, one which is doubly exaggerated now because of the unusual circumstances that applied last Sunday when, defensively at least, they were hurled into oblivion.
Their 4-22 concession was the highest in the Brian Cody era, a point more than the 5-18 v Galway in the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final, so it's natural that they find themselves under scrutiny.
It's equally understandable that Clare's overwhelming sense of control has sent the value of their stock soaring, amid claims that this is the real deal and shows the level they should have been at over the last two seasons.
Stand by now for the eulogies on Donal Og Cusack's influence to pour forth, especially from those who blamed Davy Fitzgerald for Clare's failures over the last two seasons.
Modern sports commentary likes to deal in absolutes, the most fundamental and boringly obvious being that winners always get things right while losers are invariably wrong.
It applies most of all to managements, where the winning side is always presided over by a tactical genius while the losers had a dithering wreck on the sideline.
Cody, we're told, found himself out-foxed by Fitzgerald/Cusack last Sunday, just as Anthony Cunningham was, apparently, completely out of his depth against Cody in the second half of last year's All-Ireland final.
It's never that simple. For whatever reason, Kilkenny were lethargic last Sunday. That, rather than tactics, was the big difference between the sides.
Similarly, last September's final was decided on the field, not on the sideline - the Cats improved after the break, the Tribesmen declined.
Kilkenny's win didn't mean that they were way ahead of Galway, no more than they were much clear of Tipperary a year earlier. Indeed, if it hadn't been for Hawk-Eye's intervention on John O'Dwyer's last-minute free in the first game, Tipperary might have won in 2014.
Whereupon, all the credit would have been bestowed on Eamon O'Shea and questions raised over whether Kilkenny were losing altitude.
That's now back on the agenda after one sloppy performance, whereas the superlatives are flowing in Clare's direction, amid predictions of a great season ahead.
And yet! Clare trailed Tipperary by three points late in the League quarter-final before finishing strongly to win by a point. Tipp shot 18 wides that day, including some from frees that a 10-year-old would have pointed.
That's why perspective now needs to get a look in. However, it's going to be hard to accommodate restraint high on the new wave of Banner giddiness, especially if the League title is secured.
Meanwhile, Cody has nearly eight weeks to get Kilkenny ready for the championship. And when the scales are balanced later in the year, it could well be that last Sunday's result might well work in Kilkenny's favour.
It has ended all talk of Kilkenny being streets ahead of the rest - an assessment that Cody had always railed against in the past. Now the players know it too. It's an important reminder, especially when there's plenty time to re-boot the system.