Wednesday 22 November 2017

Corbett's risk-free return

Corcoran confident Tipp talisman will add to long list of sparkling summer comebacks

Lar Corbett. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Lar Corbett. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

Dara McDonaill's photograph captured the moment perfectly. Brian Corcoran and Ollie Moran are on their knees, there is no ball in sight, but both have their backs turned to the lens and are staring over their left shoulders in anticipation of what is about to happen next.

If the photograph followed a sequence, the images would have shown Corcoran winning possession, falling to the ground, but managing to strike the ball while on his knees, Moran desperately trying to block him down, but the sliotar sailing between the posts.

Viewed in isolation, that photograph taken in the 2004 Munster semi-final means very little. But the context is everything. That score was greeted in the Gaelic Grounds with a cheer that could have been heard in Cork. It signalled that Corcoran was finally back.

Minutes earlier, the Cork crowd had already risen to acclaim Corcoran as a second-half sub. He had only made his competitive comeback for his club Erin's Own in a county league game against Killeagh just three months previously after not having picked up a hurley for almost three years.

ANXIOUS

That evening, a comeback with Cork seemed miles away. His touch and his timing was off, his striking was imperfect. Despite Corcoran's immense class and experience, he almost seemed anxious during that match.

In truth, that anxiety was universally mirrored throughout Cork. Everybody was willing him back into the Cork jersey. Equally, everybody was afraid of the fall he might suffer.

Incrementally, Corcoran made it back and all of those fears were buried by September. That season, that comeback, was arguably Corcoran's greatest triumph. He finished the summer as the All Star full-forward, the first hurler to be selected in three different lines on the field in 33 years of the awards scheme.

Prior to this season, Corcoran was the last Hurler of the Year to have walked away before reconsidering. As soon as Lar Corbett made a similar U-turn this week, it inevitably sparked a litany of comparisons with Corcoran.

There still is a significant difference in any attempt to compare the two comebacks. For a start, Corcoran was out of the game for a lot longer than Corbett. On the other hand, Corcoran wasn't under the same pressure back then as Corbett is now. He was being tried out in a new position at full-forward, with no guarantee of even making the team. Corbett, meanwhile, was a contender for Hurler of the Year for a second successive season just last September.

The huge scoring standards he set for himself could now be used a massive stick to beat him with.

"I honestly don't think all of that is going to be a problem for Lar," says Corcoran. "In one sense, the break may benefit him because he will be fresh and he has had a good mental break.

"It may take him a few games to get up to speed, but I'm sure if he has decided to commit, he will be putting in the required time to get the touch back.

"I'd equate Lar's return more to a guy who has been out injured for five or six months. Players in that situation don't get that fitness and match sharpness back immediately, but the big advantage Lar has is that he isn't coming back with any injury or concern hanging over him."

From Jimmy Keaveney to Seamus Darby to Ja Fallon to Mike McCarthy, there have always been players like Corcoran who have returned to championship action after a sustained hiatus.

Massive speculation has consistently accompanied Corbett's reasons for departing the game when he did, but Corcoran neatly frames his comeback in the context that players have always missed huge chunks of the season and still come roaring back for the championship.

The nature and timing of DJ Carey's withdrawal and subsequent return within six weeks in 1998 was the most high profile -- and most comparable to Corbett's. Yet who remembers now that Carey missed the first seven months with Kilkenny in 2002? Carey ended that season an All Star.

Ciaran McDonald hadn't played for Mayo for over a year when he returned to the squad for the 2004 championship and was a contender for Footballer of the Year that season. In 2008, Noel Hickey missed almost a full season for Kilkenny before returning for that year's All-Ireland semi-final and final, winning an All Star in the process.

There are examples everywhere you look over the last two decades. Ross Carr won an All Star in 1991 after having only returned to the Down panel six weeks before that year's championship.

Comebacks can even be far shorter. At 36, Martin Storey rejoined the Wexford panel two weeks before the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final. Tyrone's Stephen O'Neill had missed the 2008 league and championship until coming back for that year's All-Ireland final. O'Neill had a hand in the game's only goal.

In that regard, Corbett's return now hardly merits description as a comeback. The biggest difference is that most of those players were still playing with their clubs and had maintained the mindset of being an elite player through their training culture.

Corcoran, though, hadn't played club hurling for two and a half years and he overcame any obstacles in his way.

"My biggest concern was coming back right from a fitness point of view," he says. "Donal O'Grady gave me time to get myself right, because you don't want to throw a guy in before he is ready and then set him back. It will probably be the same with Lar now. I'm sure they'll mind him, but I doubt if he has let himself go either and is 20lbs overweight."

Corbett is on his own fitness programme now, but he hasn't put on a single pound of weight since last year's All-Ireland final. He had been doing some hurling on his own to maintain his first touch, while he was immediately able to compete in the running drills at his first session back on Tuesday night.

Players cannot afford to miss three months of conditioning work in the modern game, but Corbett is one of the few players in the country who probably could because his game is built on lightning speed and fluid movement.

Tipperary have admitted that Corbett won't be ready for the Limerick game next weekend, but he will be a serious option now for later in the season.

Although Tipp were also missing Patrick 'Bonner' Maher and Seamus Callanan during the spring, the fact that Tipp only created 13 goalscoring chances in six league matches highlights how much of a priority it was to get Corbett back.

Moreover, Corbett is used to overcoming long lay-offs. Between 2004 and 2006, he only started five of 35 league and championship games through injury.

At the end of that injury-plagued run of matches, Corbett scored goals in the 2006 Munster championship against Waterford and Cork.

LETHAL

He's a far more lethal predator now than he was back then. Plus, he has a far higher X-factor. Can you imagine the bolt of electricity that will run through a stadium when he finally does re-enter the stage this summer?

Comebacks are always rife with worries and concerns, but this one seems risk-free. Some will say that Corbett risks tarnishing his reputation if it all goes wrong.

Yet people who are afraid of taking those chances never do anything in the first place.

Corbett's return was a huge story this week. But as the summer drifts on, this drama will naturally fade into the multitude of storylines that the championship is about to write.

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