Tuesday 26 May 2015

Semi-final losers are feeling different kinds of hurt

Michael McCarthy

Published 20/08/2014 | 02:30

Cork's Aidan Walsh shows his disappointment as he leaves the field during his side's All-Ireland hurling semi-final defeat to Tipperary. Photo: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE
Cork's Aidan Walsh shows his disappointment as he leaves the field during his side's All-Ireland hurling semi-final defeat to Tipperary. Photo: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

Choosing the lesser of two evils was a major source of discussion on last week’s Off The Ball. Was it better to be hammered or to lose a close game you should have won? In this year’s All-Ireland hurling semi-finals, both examples were explored.

Anthony Daly kicked off the debate when appearing on the show after Limerick’s defeat to Kilkenny. He said he’d much rather be in TJ Ryan’s position than his own after Tipperary destroyed his Dublin team some weeks previously.

Until last Sunday, I was firmly entrenched in the belief it was better to be a hopeless loser than one that left a game behind them. Limerick will watch the All-Ireland final believing it should be them. They’ll go through the winter reliving every puck of the ball, cursing the weather, and talking about killer instinct.

As a fan, my worst memory is of Clare’s defeat in the 2005 All-Ireland semi final, when Cork scored the last six points of the game to win by the minimum. It had been as good as won. The sick feeling leaving Hill 16 that day still lives with me more than any other Clare loss.

But at Croke Park on Sunday, I witnessed the other side of the coin. The dejection of the Cork players and fans might not have been as dramatic as that last-minute pain, but it was all the worse for its gradual devastation.

More than Dublin, Cork believed they would win. Within a second of an All-Ireland title last year and current Munster champions, there’s no way they saw this coming. When it happened, they were shellshocked.

The real hard thing to watch is a team having to go through the motions of trying to the last ball, when everyone on the pitch, in the stadium, in the country, knows it’s over.

The hammering is also the kind of thing that leads to post-mortems.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard laments for Cork’s lack of underage success, but why is it suddenly a factor for a team that almost won an All-Ireland, then replaced a third of the side with younger players?

Both Cork and Limerick will brood for the winter. The different manner of their defeats may inspire them to do better things in 2015.

The question remains: what kind of loss is easier to overcome? As a fan, I have to say, I still can’t decide which is worse – not turning up at all, or not taking your chance when it’s there.

Perhaps, as one texter pointed out, a good, solid six-point beating could be the best possible scenario for going out of the Championship.

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