Wednesday 21 March 2018

ó hAilpín puts foot in it ahead of Antrim tie

And hurlers have form on that score, says Damian Lawlor

CORK and Antrim fixtures may not be the most alluring but there has been plenty of edge to their recent history.

Sure enough, the second game of the day is the 'main event' but there may be a few little sparks, maybe even enough to ignite the curtain-raiser. For instance, former Cork minor selector Bob Thornhill and ex-senior trainer Jerry Wallace, a close friend of many of the Cork team, are now key members of Dinny Cahill's backroom.

And then, of course, 2004 is still fresh in the memory for many. Cahill stoked the fires days before throw-in when he predicted an Antrim win at a pre-match press conference, much to the surprise of the journalists present.

One of the most passionate hurling men around -- as evidenced by his 11-hour round trip from his home in Cloughjordan to Antrim -- Cahill (pictured) maintained his side could challenge for the All-Ireland title, and that he wasn't driving 200 miles four times a week to lose. He also said that he felt Brian Corcoran was finished and questioned the positioning of Niall McCarthy at centre-forward. Cork went on to win handsomely.

This time around, it could be the Antrim men who are pinning newspaper articles to the wall. On last weekend's Sunday Game, Cahill -- perhaps after his experience six years ago -- was more circumspect when talking about the game. Instead, it was Cork that lit the fuse. Last week, in a column on website, Seán óg ó hAilpín admitted he didn't even know Antrim were still left in the championship until last weekend.

"I'll be honest with you -- I didn't even know Antrim were still in the qualifiers," he wrote. "The last time I heard of them they were unlucky to lose against Offaly and I thought that was their involvement in the championship over. We were heading into Thurles and someone said Antrim had beaten Dublin by a point. That came as a shock to me. They've beaten a good side because I really rate Dublin. They're in the quarter-finals now, and you can imagine the confidence they'll have."

ó hAilpín was asked about this last week, and he said he had meant no disrespect.

"I actually didn't realise Antrim were still in it and that was probably Seán Óg in a bubble of himself, just worried about Cork games," he said. "If you spoke to me about earlier round games, I couldn't tell you who played who. I don't give a damn. I am just worried about Cork and how Cork progress in the championship."

But sure when it comes to 'foot-in-mouth' disease before big games, hurlers have form. Back in 1990, Tipp were strong favourites to beat Cork in the Munster championship, having won their first All-Ireland in 18 years the previous September. In the build-up, their manager Babs Keating said that "donkeys don't win derbies". Cork then produced a terrific display to beat Tipp. The next day, one newspaper proclaimed, 'Donkeys do win derbies'.

Eight years later, this time in charge of Offaly, Keating saw his team lose to Kilkenny in a Leinster final and remarked that they looked like sheep in a heap. He later resigned and the 'sheep' went on to win an All-Ireland.

In 2007, after guiding Limerick to their first All-Ireland final in 11 years via a beating of Waterford, a delighted Richie Bennis faced the media. "We got five goals and Dan The Man [Shanahan] got none," he said.

Ger Loughane is another who frequently got himself tangled up through his observations and comments. Upon taking charge of the Galway team, he declared that he would be a failure if he didn't deliver an All-Ireland title within two years. They didn't of course.

Sunday Independent

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