Thursday 14 December 2017

Martin Breheny - All-Ireland SHC has the ingredients to be one of the best for many years

Three of hurling's big guns from last year have misfired but they could still get their aim right

Christopher Joyce and Anthony Nash celebrate Cork’s victory over Waterford but, once again, much of the focus has been on the weaknesses of their opposition. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Christopher Joyce and Anthony Nash celebrate Cork’s victory over Waterford but, once again, much of the focus has been on the weaknesses of their opposition. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

I met 'Fan' Larkin in Semple Stadium before last Sunday's Cork-Waterford game.

"Well, 'Fan', who's it to be?"

"I fancy Cork."

"Why?"

"They were very good against Tipperary - a lot better than they got credit for. All the talk was about why Tipperary lost, not why Cork won. You can't ignore a performance like what Cork gave."

'Fan', once described by Eddie Keher as "inch-for-inch and pound-for-pound, the best corner-back I have ever seen or encountered," was swimming against a high tide of opinion, which held that Waterford's style would frustrate Cork.

Still, it's always wise to listen to a man with five All-Ireland medals and four All-Star awards and who once marked an opponent who was nearly 10 inches taller than him in an All-Ireland final.

And while Cork beat Kilkenny in the 1978 final, 'Fan' did well enough on Ray Cummins, who 22 years later was chosen at full-forward on the 'Team of the Millennium', to win his fourth All Star.

Larkin's comments about Cork's win last month were correct - the reaction was almost all about how and why Tipperary lost. It wasn't supposed to happen and when it did, there had to be an explanation beyond the patently obvious that Cork outhurled the All-Ireland champions.

Perspective is a dud currency in much modern-day analysis where credit for victory and responsibility for defeat are often inflated to a ridiculous extent. It's straight from Animal Farm's 'four legs good, two legs bad' philosophy.

Agonise

'Winners right, losers wrong' is the new creed across all sport. Sky Sports' advertisement for their All-Ireland championship coverage is a comical example, with Jim McGuinness somehow keeping the straightest of faces as he declares solemnly that "the difference between winning and losing is how you look at the game".

Tell that to Leitrim footballers and manager Brendan Guckian or to Offaly hurlers and Kevin Ryan after the big defeats by Roscommon and Galway respectively last Sunday. Should they agonise over the daft notion of how a failure to look at the games in a certain way undermined them when the simple reality is that were beaten by superior opposition? In the interest of maintaining their sanity, the latter sounds a safer option.

The growing trend of turning every game into an analytical forest of what-might-have-been, complete with genius managers and exceptional players (winners) and incompetent opposition (losers) doesn't tell anything like the full story. In many cases, it's even narrowed down to the managers.

There were plenty of voices squawking about Mickey Harte's so-called conservatism, and how it was stifling Tyrone, prior to last Sunday's clash with Donegal.

What happens? Tyrone hit 1-21 and suddenly a new, exciting era is being predicted. Remember last year? Tyrone hit Cavan for 5-18 in the Ulster semi-final replay, but managed a combined total of only 0-25 against Donegal (Ulster final) and Mayo (All-Ireland quarter-final), winning the former and losing the latter.

One scoring blitz proves nothing, no more than insisting that Harte runs a conservative ship makes it true. Rushing to judgment on relatively little evidence might be fun but it should never be elevated beyond that.

Take the hurling action so far this summer. The ejection of last year's All-Ireland finalists, Tipperary and Kilkenny, and semi-finalists Waterford from the provincial championships has certainly energised the campaign. However, it's far too early to assert with any degree of conviction that it will break an All-Ireland trend where Kilkenny (8) and Tipperary (2) have taken 10 of the last 11 titles.

Hand on heart now, if you had to call whether the All-Ireland champions would come from the provincial finalists (Galway, Wexford, Cork, Clare) or the qualifiers, which would you choose? It's highly probable that a majority vote would favour the latter.

That doesn't mean that the novelty value of a first Galway-Wexford Leinster final or a first Cork v Clare Munster decider for 18 years isn't a welcome development.

Indeed, Wexford's return to the Leinster final for the first time since 2008 is a great story - one where Davy Fitzgerald is rightly getting a lot of credit. Of course, Liam Dunne's good work over recent years should not be forgotten but it is.

Kudos are now tumbling Fitzgerald's way but he experienced the other side too in his last two years with Clare when he was being accused of stifling their progress. The 2013 All-Ireland win was ignored, replaced by a view that he had run his course with his native county. Now, he is being depicted as a genius again.

Derek McGrath got lots of praise for Waterford's rise in recent years but is now under attack because they lost to Cork.

One defeat and everything he has done is being questioned. It's a bizarre over-reaction. Even Brian Cody is coming under a new spotlight amid claims that Kilkenny are a beaten docket. Really? Defeat in last year's All-Ireland final and against a rapidly-improving Wexford team can scarcely be taken as a definitive judgment on Kilkenny.

Meanwhile, Galway are tightening as All-Ireland favourites, despite having had no real championship test yet. It suggests that a runaway win over Tipperary in a freakish league final is regarded as proof that the problems of recent years have been banished. It does no such thing.

In fact, nothing has yet been proven about this championship so far other than it has the ingredients to be one of the best for many years. That's good enough for now.

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