Buds of optimism emerge from Winter of Discontent

A lot of water has flowed under the Christy Ring Bridge since Cork meekly exited the Championship last July. The appointment of a new(ish) manager brought fresh grounds for excitement, although the manner of the U20 defeat to Tipperary and the recent reports of perilous financial woes reminded us that despair is never far from our doors. Thankfully, fiscal mismanagement and questionable governance appear to be in vogue among many of our hurling counterparts, while the level of debt is relatively small change when compared to our bungling brethren above in Abbottstown. No matter how tenuous, positives can be drawn from an eventful off-season.

At the very least, we can take solace in the fact that the championship defeat to Kilkenny didn’t ignite the maelstrom of controversy that it appears to have done up in Limerick. While the fast-handed prowess of the Limerick hurlers excited the hurling world in 2018, it has proved to be a dangerous attribute when swapping camán for iPhone. The trouble in Limerick has been exacerbated, of course, by their apparent insistence on producing a behind-the-scenes docu-series, providing a baying online audience with an exclusive insight into the extracurricular activities of intercounty hurlers. The series finale culminated in two of the show’s protagonists being voted off in New York. It remains to be seen whether they’ll be reinstated for the much-anticipated new season.

Meanwhile up in Galway, it’s been a winter to forget. While everyone from Michael D. Higgins to Gráinne Seoige were seemingly withdrawing their interest in the vacant managerial role, the investigative arm of the fast-food behemoth Supermacs were bringing the financial incompetency of the beleaguered County Board into the public domain. While all is certainly not rosy in the garden here on Leeside, at least we have been spared the ignominy of our travails being publisized by John Graces or Hillbilly’s Fried Chicken. Another managerial fiasco unfolded in neighbouring Clare, where despite the best efforts of the county board executives, Brian Lohan was eventually selected as their new hurling manager. The Wolfetones man becomes the fourth member of the famed 90’s team to be handed the reigns in recent years and Cork supporters will be hoping he’s more Sparrow than Davy.

Kilkenny, as ever the infuriating pillar of competency and contentment, have remained impervious to the chaos. Their house eternally in order, their ducks forever in a row. While the departure of Mick Dempsey from the backroom team is encouraging for all those outside the Marble County, his replacements D.J Carey and Martin Comerford are certainly no daws, both well versed in the art of inflicting pain on their Rebel foes. Kilkenny’s August conquerors, Tipperary have kept a worryingly low profile over the winter months, which doesn’t bode well for anyone. That being said, historical evidence would suggest that the Premier County enjoy their All-Ireland successes more than most. Wexford, too, have gone about their business diligently, renewing the services of Davy Fitzgerald for another season. Davy’s fire and brimstone approach to management generally tends to run its course after three years, at which stage his despondent subjects understandably begin to yearn for a simpler life. The Davy love-in on Slaneyside shows no signs of abating however, suggesting that maybe he has finally found a crowd as mad as he is?

While it is always inadvisable to throw stones from glass houses, any discord across cross county lines can only be welcomed. Their difficulty is our opportunity and all that. Perhaps it is overly optimistic to suggest that the Cork hurlers could benefit from the off-field strife of our neighbors while simultaneously paying no heed to our own, but isn’t straw-clutching often the last refuge of the desperate? Another straw ripe for clutching has manifested itself in the form of the Munster Hurling League. By scheduling the pre-season tournaments for the fag end of 2019, the GAA have taken a novel approach to fixture congestion, a tactic reminiscent of the D’unbelievables having the dinner at half-eight in the morning to get a clear run of the day. Nevertheless, here we stand, on the first weekend of January, two from two, the listless performance against Kilkenny last July drifting further from the consciousness (Dissociative Amnesia I think is the medical term). Is fada an turas o Fraher Field go Pairc an Chrocaigh, to paraphrase one famous Rebel, but yuletide victories are victories all the same.

It’s smoke and mirrors up until May, when we enter the Munster bear-pit. Emerge from that unscathed and it’s anyone’s game. Until then, we can only speculate and remain sanguine. Hope springs eternal as the fella says. At the very least, unlike our compatriot Dara Murphy, we might even make the odd trip to Dublin.

Eoin Keane

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