Bluebloods bite back
SO this is how it's going to end?
This season of upsets, of fresh faces, of new beginnings, with the bluebloods on top? With Jimmy Barry-Murphy returning the Rebels to the top table?
It certainly feels that way. Tails up in Croke Park, with the red and white horde exhorting them to greater heights, there's something irrestible and irrepressible about Cork at the moment. The perfect team they are not. The team with the most impressive underage credential they are not. What they are is Cork and that means something.
Tradition matters. It's not so much that opposing teams fall over themselves with fear and deference at the sight of the blood and bandages, it's that players stand taller with them on their back. We all know that old line about the Cork man with an inferiority complex – he thinks he's the same as everybody else.
Add Barry-Murphy into the mix and you've got a bunch of hurlers ready to believe in themselves, to believe that they can achieve what everybody else thought they had no chance of doing just a couple of months ago.
Don't get us wrong. We're not for a moment suggesting that this Cork side's success is some sort of a confidence trick. There's serious talent in that Cork team. The dynamism of the Rebel midfield on Sunday was thrilling to watch. Lorcan McLoughlin and Daniel Kearney left John McCaffrey and Joey Boland trailing in their wake in the first half. McLoughlin scored three from play. Kearney one.
They're making names for themselves these guys. Guys like Seamus Harnedy. Before the championship started the guy wasn't even a household name in his own house. Now he's a banker for an All Star and the young player of the year award to boot.
The development of this Cork side over the course of the championship has been quite spectacular. The improvement from month to month, from week to week, from one match to the next quantifiable. That's down to good coaching. That's down to Barry-Murphy putting together one of the more impressive backroom teams in the championship. That's down to JBM having the self-assurance to bring a man of Ger Cunningham's calibre on board.
In the last couple of games Cork have had the rub of the green, of course. Henry Shefflin should never have seen the line and that's official, one of his yellow cards was rescinded last week and on Sunday Ryan O'Dwyer was in a similar boat. The second yellow was justified, but the first? Not so much.
Then again, what goes around comes around. Patrick Horgan should never have seen red in the Munster final and had he not who knows what might have happened. The initial reaction of many was to say that Limerick would have won anyway – they had the better bench, they had the greater desire... etc – much of that, however, could have been a desire not to rain on Limerick's parade. People were, understandably, caught up with the euphoria in the Gaelic Grounds that day.
No matter who wins on Sunday Cork aren't going to fear them. They're the ones who belong there. Croke Park on All Ireland Sunday is where Cork teams are supposed to be, where they expect to be. Neither Clare nor Limerick, for obvious reasons, have that aristocratic, born-to-rule sensibility they do on Leeside.
Whoever wins on Sunday, Cork will already have crossed swords with them in this year's championship. The impression is that another game with Limerick would suit Cork more than a game with the Banner.
If Cork folk are thinking that way a word of warning: be careful what you wish for. Think back to '97. Back then people felt Clare could hardly beat Tipperary twice in the one season. Well they did. They followed up their Munster Final victory with victory in September.
The present day Clare side would feel they had unfinished business with Cork. They didn't come anywhere near to doing themselves justice in the Munster semi-final. With the wind at their back they huffed and they puffed and in the second half the Rebels blew their house down. It was tame stuff from Davy Fitzgerald's side. They're better than that.
Yet despite their recovery since nobody's wholly convinced by them. They beat Galway? Big whoop. Galway reverted to type after last year's heroics. They beat Wexford and Laois? Again big whoop. That's the least that should be expected of them.
They've got an amazing array of young talent, afterall. Young guns with more pedigree than Cork's: David McInerney, Brendan Bugler, Patrick Donnelan, John Conlon, Tony Kelly, Darach Honan. All over the pitch they've got stars of the future. Guys who've won Munster and All Ireland Under 21 titles.
On Sunday they'll be given their chance to prove that they're ready to step up to the mark. They had that chance before and messed up.
It's now or never.