Sport Vincent Hogan

Thursday 14 December 2017

Vincent Hogan: Soaring to new heights

Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin fields a high ball ahead of Cork's Ronan Curran as Aidan Fogarty, left, and Shane Murphy await the break in Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin fields a high ball ahead of Cork's Ronan Curran as Aidan Fogarty, left, and Shane Murphy await the break in Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Next day, perhaps they might like to dress appropriately.

Surgical gowns maybe or undertakers' top hat and tails. And how about a rule denying them the luxury of substitutes? And first-aid? How about, in the event of any ash being broken, they just hurl away with stumps. Maybe we could steal their children.

Kilkenny rolled through Croke Park like rain yesterday and the last little ledge of reality left to a once remarkable Cork team crumbled beneath them. There was sadness in seeing great men reduced to playing from memory, all the fire drawn from them.

hurt

But, then, Kilkenny have turned this championship into a playground of hurt. Dublin, Galway and Cork all came bounding at them with shining eyes only to get dumped to the bottom of a dark well. This, apparently, was Kilkenny's biggest championship win over Cork since 1905.

"Decent performance, very, very decent," said Brian Cody, a contented artist, rinsing turpentine through his brushes.

Try figuring them out and you end up dizzy. Aidan Fogarty started his first championship game since last year's All-Ireland final and had 1-2 on the board in 23 minutes. Brian Hogan went to the stand with his shoulder strapped and Henry Shefflin followed with a knee virtually in traction.

Yet, Kilkenny just hit a nirvana of touch and movement that opened Cork up like a split apple.

They tune themselves to these days like maybe no team hurling has ever seen. "They were massive really, sensational," agreed Denis Walsh down in the interview room. And we peered behind the veil of his words to see if, maybe, there was the tiniest pin-point of hope.

Denis, essentially, could offer none.

So, hurling is drawn between awe and a sense of mild futility today. "Truthfully, I don't," said Walsh, when asked if he could imagine a serum in Tipperary or Waterford to bring them down next month.

And, as if to oil the hinges of our apprehension, the Kilkenny minors gave Galway a fearful thrashing in the curtain-raiser too. These stripey men just don't take backward glances.

They were wonderful then. Time was, this Cork team could look them in the eye as equals, but all they see is a vanishing sunset now. Cork are old and ruined, Kilkenny bolting for another galaxy.

If these are the 'Stepford Wives' of hurling, maybe conformity is under-rated.

What enmity was in the air petered out like a dying penny-candle. Noel Hickey and Aisake O hAilpin were carded almost at the outset and, when John Gardiner met Hogan with a legitimate shoulder that would ultimately put him in that sling, there was a palpable swell of energy in the stands.

Seconds later, Richie Power was penalised for charging with the ball after running down a three-man cul de sac and Cork nostrils were flaring.

Yet, eight minutes in, a sign of their pending predicament. Donal Og lasered a short puck-out to Ronan Curran who located Niall McCarthy by the toes of the Hogan Stand. And McCarthy, the Cork forward best-known for championship-pedigree cojones, found himself tossed about like a piece of flotsam, until 'Cha' Fitzpatrick relieved him of the sliotar.

Seconds later, Cusack saved bravely at the Canal End goal from Richie Power. You could hear the dull thud of a penny dropping.

Cork wanted to engage Kilkenny at a primal level, yet could scarcely catch their attention. Eighteen minutes in, Henry arrived at pace from one of those ghost positions he sometimes takes and his handpass to Eddie Brennan was, essentially, a signed cheque.

Four minutes later, Power managed (perhaps illegally) to get Cusack and Eoin Cadogan at cross-purposes and, from a penal angle, Fogarty pulled first time. Kilkenny were seven points clear and gone.

Walsh had armed his team with the only plausible game-plan to pitch against a force of nature.

"Go toe to toe," he said, hoping they'd still be breathing -- say -- ten minutes into the second half. They weren't. They were laid out and embalmed.

Fogarty's goal triggered an avalanche at the Canal End, Kilkenny tacking on six unanswered points and moving through the gears with such implacable calm that even the sight of the electric Shefflin limping ashore barely raised an eyebrow. Martin Comerford scored with his first touch. Power was running riot.

By the time Cork got to their tea, all pretence had left the building.

"It's an awful thing to say, but the game was over," admitted Walsh with trademark candour later.

They trailed 0-5 to 2-12 by now, just two points better off than Waterford in the slapstick final of '08, and would resume without the decommissioned Aisake.

In a sense, that was the moment their season's work fell into a bucket. All the hours invested in the "twin tower" strategy now looked wasted and a little foolhardy.

The journey away from short-passing and possession essentially just took them in a full circle. Cork, in 2010, will be remembered as being neither one thing nor the other.

So, hitting the hard space of Kilkenny's will just brutally exposed them.

True, they would 'win' the second half by a single point, yet the heat had palpably left the fixture. "We didn't ease up, we're not interested in easing up at all to be honest with you," Cody assured us.

And, of course, they didn't. Not consciously at least. But they had the first nine shots of the second half, hitting the target with just four, and -- thereafter -- settled for the odd little trumpet line of beauty.

ripple

The first Cork forward to score from play was Pat Horgan in the 50th minute and when, with seven minutes remaining, Power plucked a John Mulhall delivery from the heavens, to ripple the net at the Hill end goal, the roars sounded strangely circumspect.

For this had ceased to be anything but cruel business now. A parody of a once proud rivalry. Cork, essentially, hadn't been given the space to hurl. They'd been crowded out and hunted down. And there wasn't a string-piece of consolation to cool the hurt of it. There never is in slaughter.

No question, we've seen the last of some of them and hurling will be the poorer for it. Walsh expressed a view last night that there was "an awful lot left in these players". Yet, his follow-up line vaulted forth as a tiny contradiction.

"Maybe sometimes if you lose the edge, these defeats maybe get at you," said the Cork manager. "Concentration is a word that's used very easy, but concentration comes from being on your game all the time.

"It's very hard for the players to go back who've seen a lot of action over the last ten years." To be fair, his gut feeling wasn't a long distance from ours. Against anyone other team than Kilkenny, Cork might have had a puncher's chance. Yet, we live in the stripey world and, in theory, it's a grand democracy.

In reality? It looks like the rest of hurling is playing for second. Still, Hogan and Shefflin will be worries now and who is to say what mental weight the five-in-a-row might bring to bear on September 5?

They are the greatest we have seen, but history doesn't come by mail order.

Yet, Cody left us with that familiar shine in his eyes. Asked by the man from Radio na Gaeltachta for an interview as gaeilge, he demurred, pointing to 'an buachaill seo' Cha Fitzpatrick as having a better grasp of our native tongue.

Mortal after all.

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