To Winston Churchill, Russia was a “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. Watching the Cork hurlers this year we’ve been left thinking much the same. About Cork that is. Not Russia. From day to day, game to game, the Rebels are never quite what you expect them to be.
Inputs don’t result in expected outcomes. There’s quite often as much upside to that as downside. Those days when they show up and put their critics in their place with displays of genuine conviction and class. Leaving you to think that maybe, just maybe, they’ve finally cracked it.
The flip side of that are those days when you expect a little something from the blood and bandages only to be left bitterly disappointed. Who’d be a Cork hurling fan, eh?
The ride has more ups and downs than a weekend at Alton Towers. Watching on from the side lines in Semple Stadium – in the company of Bill Murray of all people – the very healthy Cork crowd must have been left gurning in discomfort as their side spent as much time on the slide as on the ascent.
The truly frustrating thing about it, the thing that put a knot in the stomach of all Cork fans, is that they probably should have won the game. It was there for the taking against a Galway side still in the afterglow of a disappointing Leinster final defeat to Kilkenny.
Cork, though, had an uncharacteristically poor day in front of the sticks. A catastrophically bad day truth be told converting just 46% of chances created. That’s an awful return for a side gifted with such talented hurlers.
Go back to the first half and the Rebels could easily have had at least another pair of goals, if not three. And that’s even before you come to the missed frees and the debate as to whether or not Kieran Kingston ought to have started Patrick Horgan.
Hindsight suggests he should. Still we can’t necessarily blame him for that. It seemed the right call at the time. The manager can only do so much. Maybe it’s just the case that these players aren’t good enough, despite their undoubted skill and commitment?
Their lack of consistency suggests as much. On their day, they’re a match for anyone. To win championships, though, you need a little more than that.
Indeed, for all we might criticise certain failings that Cork have shown time and again – their performances in both the All Ireland and National League finals were worryingly familiar – there was a sense that this was a malfunction of a different sort.
You can’t quite even rely on Cork to be inconsistent in the same way. To butcher Tolstoy from Anna Karenina, all wins are alike, but every defeat is unhappy in its own way.
Where does all this leave Cork? Where does it leave Kieran Kingston? It’s hard to see what more the Tracton man can do with this squad and, maybe, that’s the thing. The squad needs a revamp and a reboot, probably under a new manager.
With it being seventeen years since Liam last visited Leeside, the famine is well and truly on.
Is this Serena’s last roll of dice at SW19?
There’s part of you that immediately wants to believe. She has that power. She has that persona. She has that aura, not to mention a preternatural ability which is seemingly timeless. Given the relatively ho-hum state of the women’s game, she has a star-power that’s badly lacking too.
Her announcement this week that she was going to take up a wild-card entry to Wimbledon (which gets underway next week), will give the organisers a timely boost, especially after Naomi Osaka’s announcement that she wasn’t going to contest the championships this year, and with persistent doubts over Emma Raducanu’s fitness.
Even without having played a competitive game of tennis in a year – since Wimbledon last year as it happens – Serena Williams is still the undoubted biggest star in the women’s game.
The American is an icon. Instantly recognisable. Undoubtedly box-office. When she takes to the court early next week, she’s going to be the star attraction, you just know she is.
Most tennis fans will be willing her on too. Like modern day Fox Mulders, we want to believe, but maybe that’s all is it, make-believe? The notion that she might be able to win in SW19 seemingly fanciful.
Thought about rationally it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. She’s 40-years-of-age. She’s not played a competitive game in a year and the only preparation she’ll have – beyond her private training regime – is in the doubles at Eastbourne this week alongside Ons Jabeur.
Add to that the fact she’s going to be unseeded for Friday’s draw means she could be bowled a real googly early next week. Sink or swim right away for the 24-time Grand Slam champion. Still there’s part of you that can’t dismiss it outright isn’t there? This is Serena Williams we’re talking about here after all.
It’s hard to imagine she’s taking part just for the jolly or even just to boost her profile to keep sponsors happy for another year and, yet, if she was deadly serious wouldn’t she have played a few more events on grass over the last month or so? And would she not have taken part in the singles at Eastbourne and not just the doubles?
The desire for that 25th title, the chance to at least pull level with Margaret Court atop the roll of honour, has to be very real for Williams, as unlikely as it seems she might actually get there this time around. That her plan for achieving it seems opaque to us, doesn’t mean there isn’t one, however. And, who’s to say, it’s not a brilliant one?
If somehow she manages to do it, it will be one of the greatest sporting coups of all-time. A fairy-tale ending to a garlanded career. It would also be a bit of a rebuke to everyone else on tour.
Pride alone demands they can’t allow Williams to pull this out. French Open Champion and World Number 1 Iga Swiatek for one we can’t imagine will stand for it.
Williams’ dream of 25 won’t come to pass, no matter how romantic a notion it might be, no matter how many of us will be urging her on. Time and tide and all of that.
Getting off on a technicality far too common in GAA
There’s a crisis in the GAA when it comes to discipline. You might not have noticed it because it’s been going on so long that most have become inured to it.
When news came through last week that the Galway and Clare players, who were in danger of suspension for last weekend’s All Ireland Hurling Championship quarter-finals, got off scot-free, were any of us surprised?
If we were it was only of the most performative sort of surprise. Like Fry in that episode of Futurama when he declares himself shocked, SHOCKED… well maybe not that shocked.
We’ve come to accept it as part of the game. Our cynicism born of experience that hardly anything ever sticks when the counties are big enough and the stage of the season seen as too important.
It’s honestly hard to recall the last time a major player missed a game of real significance due to suspension. A large part of that is a culture in Gaelic games that everything can be challenged, no matter how cut and dried it might seem to the lay man. Every angle is exploited to ensure the availability of players.
That the Galway and Clare players last weekend got off on a technicality is hardly surprising. Counties will do whatever it takes. The famous marginal gains philosophy in action.
One might be inclined to criticise the counties and the players for not, like John Mullane all those years ago, taking their medicine, and yet it’s kind of bonkers to expect any side of a conflict – and sport is war by another means – to unilaterally disarm.
As satisfying as it might feel to tut-tut county boards for poring through the rule book looking for cracks, like water finding a way no matter what, the real blame lies with the successive administrations at Croke Park. This sort of thing really needs to be tightened up.
Obviously it’s easier said than done, but HQ really needs to redouble its efforts to close down these loopholes. Seeing somebody get away with something on a technicality does gall – unless it’s to your benefit or that of your county – but the law is all about technicalities.
They’re there for a reason. The letter as well as the spirit of the rule needs to be applied.