Examiner Column August 15 2008

August 22, 2008

in the era
of pure Rebel gold

IN CONVERSATION with a retired inter-county player a few weeks ago, an interesting point came up when I casually
referred to attendances at
championship games.

“It’s a funny thing,” he said, “I know there’s a credit crunch, or a recession, and that people can’t go to every game, that going to games costs a lot of money. But I think it’s disappointing that some of the games we’ve seen this year haven’t been full houses, and for one
particular reason. These are great players, players that we’ll be talking about in 20 years’ time. I can’t
understand why people aren’t bursting themselves to try to see them.”

Well, people certainly were bursting themselves last Sunday to get to Croke Park, despite the floodwaters unleashed on Dublin. The hurling game ended in a nine-point victory to Kilkenny, who didn’t answer any possible questions so much as serve up
responses with notes, diagrams,
examples and a full bibliography. They were awesome.

That habitual excellence has meant a lot of the media focus this week has fallen on Cork, with a consensus emerging that this is the end of the cycle for this particular outfit from the Rebel County.

And perhaps it is. The half-a-dozen starters Cork fielded who have medals from 1999 can’t go on forever, certainly. Two of them made their debut 12 years ago, and with the demands of the modern game, that puts their
starting point back in the late Jurassic period.

Before they’re consigned to the history books, however prematurely, it might be worth considering what they leave behind (in the
interests of full disclosure, this
column should reveal that it has finished a book on the said team, which covers the period from 1996 to 2008; don’t worry, we’ll be
reminding you all of that fact
plenty of times between now and its publication date in November).

For instance, it’s generally
forgotten now that when Cork
introduced a structured warm-up before beginning a game, there was a bemused reaction from the
hurling world at large. It was
universally accepted that bursting a gut by running 50 yards across the field once you got out of the
dressing room and belting the ball willy-nilly at the goal while
charging around in circles was the best way to prepare for elite

Now no team prepares without running a pre-game sequence of drills and exercises to get players’ touch in and their heart-rate up.

It’s likely that many people’s view of the Cork hurling team is coloured by the two stand-offs
between the players and their county board; there’s a sizeable group of people who have no time for the players because of that, and membership of that group doesn’t come to a full stop at the borders of the Rebel County.

And that’s a pity. Cork have been involved in some of the most
enthralling games of the last few years: everyone can remember the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final against Clare, but the seam of gold goes back further. Cork-Offaly in 1999 was a classic; the Munster final the following year was no bad game either.

In 2003, they shared the honours in an epic semi-final with
Wexford, and the following year’s Munster final has a fair claim on being the greatest of all time. The 2005 Munster final saw Cork play total hurling in the first half — and just about survive a Tipp
comeback in the second.

The 2006 All-Ireland semi-final had one of the most dramatic
endings of all time, while the three games with Waterford last year were a trilogy to rival the Lord of the Rings for drama, though with fewer fire-breathing demons and walking trees on show.
THROUGH all those years, they’ve done what every GAA team should do,
embodying one place and its sense of itself. For instance, every
supporter — and not just those in red — would like to think that, given the chance, he’d do what Donal Óg Cusack did last Sunday, giving his jersey to the son of Kilkenny ‘keeper James McGarry. Cusack had the chance. That’s what he did.

You can admit it. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

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