If you were to represent Saturday's match like the Beatles album St. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band what personalities would you have on the cover? Perhaps Kurt Cobain. There was an insipid lacklustre feel to the day's fare, that partly wasn't helped by lack of championship bite emanating from the crowd: Here we are now, entertain us, might as well been the catch cry descending from the stands. Cork's reasonably promising start to the season, allied with their recent superior record against Offaly meant that an air of cosy expectation permeated proceedings. The crowd only seemed to rouse themselves when faithful indiscretion led to baying for referee Johnny Ryan to even up the score after Pa Cronin's sending off.
Perhaps another album standard bearer would be Sean Og O' hAilpin. The former great, now on the outside looking in, recently opined that the GAA should do away with the qualifier system. Whatever the merits and demerits of such a suggestion ( one suspects Sean Og's friends in the GPA would agree with this blogger that it's, at best, a quaint notion ) there's no doubt that a certain bite has gone out of championship fare in comparison to fifteen years ago, a state of affairs that can only be partly put down to the traditional powers reasserting themselves. A prominent player ( from memory, we think Noel McGrath ) recently reflected that many supporters only seem sated when hurling is played at half three on a Sunday afternoon in front of a packed crowd. If it might irk some 'hurling people' to be lumped into a grouping with event junkies, it wouldn't mean there wasn't a ring of truth to it.
And beside Cobain and O'hAilpin perhaps Sigmund Freud. Or some modern incarnation who could peer into the collective noggins and Offaly players and management. It's ironic that under the stewardship of Joe Dooley, who tilted at establishment windmills in two separate Offaly teams, the faithful county have slipped back into over reverence for the Tipperarys and Corks of this world. Last year after running Galway to a photo finish two days in a row, they exited tamely to a Tipp team that were not in the state of dudgeon they would attain in in September. On Saturday both sides played as if the result was pre-ordained, ( stick John Calvin beside Freud perhaps ) only to check the scoreboard at the final whistle to discover the bare minimum separated them. Sure, this was partly due to the slightly freakish late goal, but Offaly had previously wasted enough good chances to win two games.
The strong cross field breeze was devilishly tricky and both times found it difficult to locate the posts with the aid of the elements. But it was still a weapon to be harnessed. Thus James Dempsey decision to try an ill conceived short puck out late in the first half with the wind, ( which led to a Cork point ) was in some respects the match in microcosm. Nine players, all who have played championship for Offaly, either couldn't start, finish or play any part because of injury. Derek Molloy had decamped to the U.S. Yet if Joe Bergin or Shane Dooley had given full vent to their talents, a major shock would have occurred. Perhaps it's their gaits, and it's partly deceptive, but at times you wondered if they were putting in the same shift as lesser lights like Cathal Egan and Ger Healion.
Certainly Cork were also casual. They still don't seem to have a coherent consistent game plan. Paudie O' Sullivan and especially Pat Horgan seem to have lifted their games this year; yet the rebels still seem enamoured of a short passing game they no longer have the legs for. Because William Egan fluffed his lines, Cronin is suspended and Lorcan McLoughlin may still be injured, it's conceivable that 6,8 and 9 for the next day could once again, for good or ill, be Curran, Kenny and Jerry O' Connor. After scoring an excellent early goal Cian McCarthy then did little to reinforce his manager's trust. But for Cork it may be two steps forward and one step back, and the next day, properly tuned in, they may once again flash the potential they showed against Tipp.
For Offaly the barren seasons and the mental scars are adding up. With the vagaries of depression Ireland who knows what players will be available facing into Division2 next spring. Plus Offaly hurling is always raging against the light of a small pick. The under 21's from midfield up against Dublin last Thursday were desperately poor. Yet a point could be made that the best xv available can be making All-Ireland semi finals. On Saturday we saw what a clean striking athlete Dylan Hayden is. Daniel Currams also flashed his potential. Former Offaly manager Michael Bond once said that his charges had great minds. Some sort of transfusion of belief from players of the past is sorely needed now. It perhaps wasn't coincidental that their manager mused afterwards that Kilkenny, Tipp and Cork are the three best teams in the championship.