Rebels can strike decisive blow
Cork 'freedom fighters' could spell end for Treaty boss McCarthy, writes Colm Keys
For a man of so few words, John Hayes delved deeper into the Limerick hurling dispute than anyone would have expected him to yesterday.
On the cusp of 100 caps at Twickenham tomorrow, Ireland's front-row rugby strongman took time away from his own milestone to shine a light on a matter than means much to him. Being from Bruff, in the heartland of the county's hurling belt, it's only natural that he'd offer an opinion on that, rather than the variances of the front-row jungle.
It's the soon-to-be centurion's fervent wish that the matter will somehow resolve itself and that Limerick's best players will return for the championship.
There is, of course, only one way -- unless there's a dramatic sea change among the players who were signatories to last month's statement -- that Hayes' hope can be met and that's the removal of Justin McCarthy as manager.
And the only way McCarthy will find himself packing his bags is for results to go badly against the spirited team he sent into action in Kilmallock last Sunday.
Thus, one of the great ironies this weekend. It could well be in the hands of Cork to break the four-and-a-half-month-old deadlock and restore an equilibrium to Limerick hurling.
That a Cork team bound for the Gaelic Grounds for tomorrow evening's floodlit game can contribute to that may be a little difficult to figure at first glance.
But with a county board meeting due on March 9 -- 10 days after tomorrow night's fixture -- a bad beating from the Rebels could conceivably unnerve the clubs in Limerick sufficiently to prompt McCarthy's departure on a vote.
Will that make Cork's motivation to win any greater than the standard procurement of two league points and a performance to trigger optimism for the months ahead?
Should it be any greater than just that? As the great freedom fighters of the hurling world, perhaps they'll see a kindred spirit between themselves and those who have downed camans in principle at the manner of McCarthy's purge last October which left 12 of the 2009 squad in isolation.
Maybe they won't see it as any of their business. But does anyone honestly believe that Kilkenny didn't have an ulterior motive when they put Cork to the sword so mercilessly in Nowlan Park last April in Denis Walsh's first game in charge? Was there not an element of putting 'manners' on them?
Conversely, the question must be asked as to whether Cork will summon up for Limerick what Kilkenny clearly privately harboured for Cork that day?
There are vast differences, of course, between the actions of Cork and Limerick players over successive winters.
It's seldom that they are referred to as the "striking" Limerick hurlers. They have been careful to engineer themselves away from that description with a softer-tone approach than their Rebel counterparts.
Secondly, there is no clearly determined alternative squad as there was in Cork 12 months ago. And there appears to be no ill will towards those who have ensured that Limerick field teams in the current league.
Paul Browne has shared a dressing room and a field with many of the jilted over the last few seasons, Brian O'Sullivan and Graeme Mulcahy are Kilmallock team-mates of Gavin O'Mahony, one of the 24 now in isolation.
But as the original champions of player welfare and unity among playing squads, it should still be part of Cork DNA to bristle at the prospect of a group of players who, by their willingness to play for their county while 24 others make themselves unavailable, are prolonging this stand-off.
Cork have already served notice of early intent with the selection of their team for last Sunday's opener against Offaly. Collectively Donal Og Cusack, Ronan Curran, Brian Murphy, Sean Og O hAilpin, Tom Kenny, Niall McCarthy and John Gardiner wouldn't normally be available so early in the season but their presence, in former player Tomas Mulcahy's view, is an indication of how they want to make up for lost ground.
"It's significant that last weekend it was the experienced players who came to the fore. Donal Og Cusack was superb, Eoin Cadogan came off the bench and did well, John Gardiner was dominant at midfield. It's clear how serious Cork want to take this league," said Mulcahy.
The prospect of Aisake O hAilpin and Michael Cussen not just sharing the same attack, but the same line of attack is one Mulcahy would also like to entertain. "It would be a new innovation for hurling and this Cork team given the way they play the game but they've always shown an ability to adapt," he said.
The public mission of Cork tomorrow night will be to advance their league cause and sharpen their game more for the challenges ahead.
Privately striking a blow for those who, like themselves, are willing to take the most extreme measures for what they believe to be right may also be on their radar. How ironic then, if it was to be Justin's last stand.