Wednesday 12 December 2018

Big question mark over Cats after early losses - Corbett

Tipperary hurler Lar Corbett at the launch of TG4’s Laochra Gael series which begins a new series this Spring. Photo: Sportsfile
Tipperary hurler Lar Corbett at the launch of TG4’s Laochra Gael series which begins a new series this Spring. Photo: Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

Lar Corbett has seen this movie before, enough to know how it usually ends. As a result, you won't find the three-time All-Star dissecting Kilkenny's form to any great depth, trying to extract significant meaning for the summer ahead.

Because as bad as Kilkenny have been in their opening games, the two-time All-Ireland winner with Tipp knows that what happens in February typically stays in February - a time when inter-county hurling is one great big game of managerial jenga, often played in a bog.

"To me, they're two different sports," said Corbett. "It's very, very tough conditions and it's very hard to pick a team (for the league) that you'd want come the first round of the championship. You want a different player for this time of year to get you over the line."

All the same, he watched from afar as Kilkenny got stuck in the mud in their opening games - slipping to three-point defeats against Cork and Clare - and while in his 15 years with Tipperary Corbett learned that writing off the Cats is a sure-fire way to look a fool, he saw enough to cause concern.

Given that Brian Cody was sent off in their Walsh Cup defeat to Wexford last month, that extends to the manager as much as the players.

"He has a high level of aggression on the sideline but it's after raising another bit," said Corbett. "To be sent to the stands is a worrying thing."

Cody's frustration, however, was also understandable given the lack of energy in Kilkenny's performances, which Corbett believes could be down to the absence of injured stars like TJ Reid and Richie Hogan.

"(Cody) developed leaders over a seven to 10-year period, but when you're looking for leaders now it's hard to see where they are. They don't have them in the same abundance. They are being questioned more than the last few years, but this is the big question mark. I'm not disappointed there's a question mark, but I'm excited about where it's going to go."

Kilkenny will face a pivotal game away to Waterford on Sunday, but even if the juggernaut fails to fire once again, Corbett believes there will be little reason for his rival fans to panic.

"This time of year, the players don't read too much into (results) but I think the media do and the public do. If a team is slow it might go into some part of their head. You have to build confidence at this time of year, and you can see Wexford are doing that."

Top-flight

As for Tipp, they welcome Wexford to Semple Stadium tomorrow night, and though Corbett has been retired from inter-county hurling since 2015 he admits he wouldn't mind re-living many parts of his top-flight career.

"People always ask do you miss it, but you have to be very grateful for the years you got and not be worried about what you didn't. I enjoy going to Tipp matches, seeing the lads winning. We all miss Croke Park, but playing in zero degrees… everyone has their time and you have to move on."

As a publican in Thurles, Corbett always had the luxury of scheduling his work around his hurling, but to him life as an inter-county player was never anything short of a privilege.

"It did take up a lot of time, but every time I put the gear into the bag, I was never saying I don't want to be doing this. I enjoyed every day at training, enjoyed all the matches. The demands are there, but I was lucky I was working in Thurles and training was there so I had a different perspective. I gave it up because I wanted to give it up and I enjoyed every opportunity."

Of course, the 2018 championship will take on a very different shape to what Corbett encountered, with Munster and Leinster to be played in a round-robin format, with each team having two games at home and two away.

For players, supporters and the game itself, Corbett believes it's an overdue initiative.

"When I played my first championship match back in 2001, we beat Clare by a point and they were gone for the year, and that's a very unfair system.

"Now you're guaranteed four Munster matches and if I'm a supporter, I want four opportunities to see the best players. It's definitely better for the game to see these lads more often, because the training and the matches - we all know the ratio doesn't really work."

A system he believes, more than ever, will ensure the best teams rise to the top. "You're not rolling the dice," he said. "You're taking the percentage of luck out of it and I definitely prefer that."

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