Sport Hurling

Wednesday 29 March 2017

The burning questions surrounding Corbett's shock exit

Tipperary manager Declan Ryan and Lar Corbett after the All-Ireland SHC semi-final victory over Dublin at Croke Park last August
Tipperary manager Declan Ryan and Lar Corbett after the All-Ireland SHC semi-final victory over Dublin at Croke Park last August
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Not since Kilkenny legend DJ Carey prematurely called time on his career at the beginning of 1998 has there been a retirement from inter-county hurling quite as sudden and surprising as Lar Corbett's on Monday night.

It was around this time 14 years ago that Carey, then the hottest property in hurling, walked away from the game he had adorned for the previous eight seasons.

Growing disillusionment with the game -- Kilkenny had lost to Clare in an All-Ireland semi-final the previous August -- was fuelled by 'talk' around his own locality from people he expected better from.

Carey felt he was consistently being knocked and it irked him sufficiently to help prompt him towards the door. There was no shortage of conjecture surrounding his departure -- which lasted just six weeks before he returned.

Tipperary will hope that Corbett's exit will be just as brief, but inevitably conjecture is widespread in the Premier County and questions have been left hanging in the air, just as they were with Carey all those years ago.

We examine some of the questions that were being asked yesterday.

1 Was it only pressure of time as suggested in his text and the subsequent board statement?

Work commitments always cover a multitude in the GAA. The players are amateurs, their investment is their time.

Last April, Corbett opened a bar in Thurles, a new business venture that took him away from a career as an electrician that had been affected by the downturn in the construction industry.

'Lar Corbett's Bar at Coppingers' seemed the ideal fit -- the All-Ireland goalscoring hero pulling pints just down the road from hurling's most fabled venue, Semple Stadium. On big-match days, when he wasn't playing himself, he was the perfect host.

But away from those big days in Semple Stadium, a famous hurling name over the door is no golden ticket to greater footfall and in interviews since opening Corbett has consistently made this point.

The need to generate business away from hurling and attract a different genre of customer is challenging for the licensed trade in general.

Tipperary have cited business reasons as the official reason for his departure, and there is clearly something in that. Corbett may feel he needs greater presence around the bar himself on evenings when it is open, and a weekly schedule that incorporates five or six nights' training doesn't lend itself to evening work.

Still, you would have felt that remaining a Tipperary hurler would be a help rather than a hindrance.

2 Is he missing the coaching influence of Eamonn O'Shea and the environment created by Liam Sheedy?

O'Shea was the innovative coach brought in by Sheedy in 2008 who revolutionised the way the Tipperary attack did its business.

He helped to liberate Corbett with greater freedom of movement and thought, and their work on the training ground yielded the greatest harvest when it mattered most -- the All-Ireland final in 2010, when the forward plundered three goals.

Corbett is known to have loved O'Shea's methods and powers of communication, and his scoring statistics clearly back that up. From the 26-67 he has scored in the championship in a career spanning 12 years, 19-34 have come in the last four years. That tells a lot about how his game was transformed.

Injuries in the middle part of his career have played their part, but O'Shea's influence on him is known to have been profound. Indeed, sound management of those injuries helped to nurse him back to full fitness and Corbett wasn't always tasked with the same training programme as everyone else because of those grizzled hamstrings. Yet his greatest scoring feat, against Waterford in last year's Munster final, came under the watch of the current Declan Ryan/ Tommy Dunne manager/ coach axis.

3 A difference of opinion with management?

Was a dispute of some nature the tipping point for his sudden departure? Inevitably that question will be asked, but the Tipperary board are insistent that this was certainly not the case and that the relationship with the management, while perhaps not as vibrant as it was with the previous regime, was fine.

Indeed, in the course of their conversation on Monday evening, Ryan is understood to have sought and got assurances that there was no issue with management.

Still such assurances haven't stopped talk in Tipperary of a difference of opinion with a member of management recently over the nature of an injury, or speculation that the removal from the squad of his Thurles Sarsfields' colleague Stephen Lillis, one of seven players dropped last week, didn't go down well with Corbett.

4 Being overlooked for captaincy?

This is unlikely to have been a huge issue for Corbett, but it's a talking point in Tipperary nonetheless and it's one that can very often rankle privately with a player.

Eoin Kelly had been captain for the last number of years, but with possible pressure coming on Kelly to hold down a permanent place in the side, the management decided to replace him with Mullinahone colleague Paul Curran. As a resolute performer for Tipp, Curran is firm captaincy material but after the manner in which he led the line over the last two years, Corbett must have been a strong contender.

He was captain for a brief period in 2006 and it may have been in the back of his mind that if the role was changing hands, his seniority and form should count strongly. It clearly wasn't strong enough.

5 General disillusionment with the game

All the indications are that Corbett was looking forward to the season ahead, but did something about the game itself spark a change of mood? He went into last year's All-Ireland final in the form of his life but was held scoreless by Jackie Tyrrell. The fallout from that can never be easy for an amateur player among his own public.

6 Will there be a quick return?

It is almost inconceivable that Corbett will not be hurling in the 2012 championship, yet there was a finality about the text message he sent to his colleagues on Monday night that suggested there would be no short-term fix.

The management have left the door open for a return, but Corbett's retirement could be a good deal longer than Carey's six weeks in 1998.

Irish Independent

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