Saturday 20 January 2018

Lar Corbett: Rebel hell... or heaven?

Lar Corbett

I'VE experienced both sides of the coin in championship matches against Cork at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. In 2008, I was fortunate enough to be part of Tipperary's first senior championship win on Cork soil against the Rebels since 1923.

That was something that nobody in our lifetime had ever experienced and it really set the ball rolling for that Tipperary team, infusing us with huge levels of belief. Cork were coming on the back of a number of good championship campaigns but the '08 campaign marked a new beginning for Tipperary under Liam Sheedy.

Two year later, however, we were dumped on our backsides against Cork at the same venue. We travelled down there as reigning Munster champions, complacent and soft-minded.

We thought that all we had to do was flick a switch and perform because we had been All-Ireland finalists in 2009. But we got some rude awakening on that Sunday afternoon in late May.

From the off, Cork were running at us, popping over points from all angles, and we couldn't stem the tide. We were swamped all over the field and Cork could have won by far more than 10 points.

The crucial thing about the fallout from that sobering loss was that we stuck together and finished the season as All-Ireland champions. The remainder of the season suited us, with matches against Wexford, Offaly, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny coming thick and fast.

We didn't have time to stop and think, and the team didn't change a whole lot either, with 13 of the 15 that lined out at Pairc Ui Chaoimh starting on All-Ireland final day. It would have been easy to press the panic button, but thank God we didn't.

If I'm lucky enough to be involved at some point on Sunday, it will be my seventh experience of senior championship hurling against Cork, dating back to my first match against the Rebels in a 2004 qualifier. I've always enjoyed playing at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, although the lick of the Celtic Tiger never extended to the dressing-rooms, showers and toilets there.

But it's a top-class field and when the ground is full and the fans are almost on top of you, it's a feeling that you just can't buy. The bowl-shaped arena creates an incredible atmosphere, and that's where you want to be on a championship Sunday.

I won't have done a whole lot differently this week. It's just another game to me and that's my mindset. Everything has to be the same. Nothing changes for me, be it challenge, league or championship. My focus is on what I can contribute.

Against Limerick, it was keeping guys hydrated. I wasn't part of the 26-man match-day panel so I took on a new role as water carrier, a different experience I must admit but thoroughly enjoyable.

My brief was to look after the forwards but I found myself drifting along the touchline as the match unfolded. When the pressure was on, I lost the run of myself a bit!

We'll travel to Cork on Sunday morning. We used to go the night before until the new road down to Cork in recent years cut the journey to just an hour from the Horse and Jockey to the Jack Lynch tunnel.

Lynch was an iconic former dual star with Cork and a man of similar stature, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, is in charge of our opponents on Sunday. JBM has brought some of the old magic back to Cork this year, taking them to a league final and instilling belief in the players again.

There are parallels too with 1999, when he placed his faith in a number of young players and was rewarded with an All-Ireland title. Now you have players like Conor Lehane and Darren Sweetnam making a huge impact, and we have to be ready for a huge backlash from Cork following their league final defeat to Kilkenny.

For the past seven weeks, every one of those Cork players will have been reflecting upon what happened to them in Thurles that day and we're going to be hit with a tide similar to what engulfed us in 2010.

A united Cork is a dangerous Cork, with JBM pulling the strings. And I suspect that injured goalkeeper Donal Og Cusack could be a 16th man for the Rebels in the background.

Cork v Tipp is not the only big hurling championship clash of the weekend, of course. In Portlaoise tomorrow evening, Dublin and Kilkenny meet in the Leinster championship and I'm eagerly looking forward to this one. I wouldn't read too much into Dublin's league form, and we were blessed to beat them in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.

It's going to be really tight, and supporters travelling to O'Moore Park should wear flak jackets because this is going to be really heavy, physical stuff.

Irish Independent

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