Cats have Lar in their claws
Tipp must find way to free Corbett from black and amber shackles as Kilkenny shut out talisman yet again
Published 07/05/2013 | 05:00
Three minutes before his interest ended with a red card, Lar Corbett got the ball in his hand for the first time in Sunday's NHL Division 1 final.
Picking up a break, he moved to his right away from goal to create an angle or find some space to squeeze off a shot. But neither materialised.
Instead, he was shunted out towards the sideline and, when he pulled the trigger, Paul Murphy, Kilkenny's excellent corner-back, moved in to smother the shot.
Briefly, Murphy appeared to allow himself a private little celebration. He snapped his hurl into the air but recoiled as quickly as he thought about it and got on with the business he was conducting all afternoon with such ruthless efficiency.
The split-second moment was revealing, however. Corbett hadn't just been peripheral in the previous 40 minutes; he had been anonymous.
One memorable touch with a lift and a flick to set up Noel McGrath after 12 minutes amounted to his first-half possession count.
He came close a few times to getting ball in hand but every time found a black-and-amber shirt arriving before him.
Michael Rice got the ball rolling after only two minutes when he intercepted a cross-field delivery from Eoin Kelly destined for Corbett that eventually led to a Kilkenny goal. And it got no better after that.
Still, Murphy seemed to enjoy closing down Corbett's one and only strike that little bit more.
What is it about Corbett and Kilkenny? Or Kilkenny and Corbett?
In the three big games between these great rivals since the 2010 All-Ireland final – the 2011 All-Ireland final, the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final and last Sunday's league final – Tipperary's most prolific goalscorer of all time has failed to score at all.
He got some respite in the league meeting between the teams in March when he pinched 1-1 as Tipperary got themselves into the recovery position after an opening-night defeat in Cork.
But last Sunday's match bypassed him before his 44th-minute red card for that altercation with JJ Delaney, adding to the intrigue of his relationship with Kilkenny that he'd surely crave to be just a normal one again.
Prior to the Nowlan Park showdown, Corbett had been having quite a fine league. He has never surfaced much for league activity but this season he started in six of the seven league matches Tipperary have played and came on against Cork to score two points.
He had been busy and productive, scoring 1-1 each time in the games against Kilkenny, Galway and Clare. His finish against Galway had a mark of class about it and you couldn't help feeling that his touch and form was as good as it has been for more than 18 months.
But at Nowlan Park he hit a wall. It wasn't for the want of trying, and it wasn't that he sought to take himself out of the game completely to create space for others. Kilkenny just shut him out once more.
The impression of the All-Ireland champions is of a team that don't make special plans for anyone. Ordinary Joes, the perception created around them is that they train hard, play hard and don't consume themselves with individualising themselves or the opposition in any way.
But you can't help feeling that the pilfering of three goals in an All-Ireland final to deny them five-in-a-row and the sense of acclaim and celebrity that naturally built up around him has somehow infiltrated their psyche and planning around Corbett.
Corbett himself shone a light on how he feels Kilkenny have sometimes addressed his predatory instincts when they have met since that 2010 final in his autobiography 'All in my Head', released late last year.
"The hurley was going to be a mere accessory because he had little or no interest in playing the game," wrote Corbett of his expectation as to how Jackie Tyrrell would play prior to the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final in which he says he was "flaked left, right and centre" during the first half.
Suggesting Kilkenny would "want me marked absent again and would use every trick in the book to stop me hurling" he noted a 15th-minute incident in the game that roused his ire and suspicion.
"I got a poke in the eye from the butt of Jackie's hurley," he recalled.
"Even allowing for the fact that it happened in the heat of the moment, I am never convinced these things are an accident, but I am sure Jackie would see it differently."
Last Sunday Tyrrell was rarely, if ever, in the vicinity of Corbett, but still no space opened up for him.
It is a concern for Tipperary that four of their five starting forwards (Noel McGrath operated as a third midfielder) were taken off, while a fifth was sent off after the quietest 44 minutes he has perhaps ever had on an inter-county hurling field. Yet they still amassed 20 points.
Corbett has operated just about everywhere in the Tipperary attack against Kilkenny since the 2010 All-Ireland final and nothing has come off for him with the exception of that March league match.
From corner-forward to half-forward and centre-forward to full-forward, where he finished last Sunday, Corbett's pathway into the game has been repeatedly blocked.
In the expectation that they will meet again at some stage later in the summer, getting Corbett some liberty from those black and amber chains will require some deep thought.
The importance of the player to Tipperary was best encapsulated by Nicky English in March: "Ultimately, if Tipperary are going to win the All-Ireland, they need to get goals, and Lar Corbett is the man that will do it. I think he's scored more goals than any man, any player ever for Tipperary. He can still do it."