A fascinating account of a fascinating group of hurlers

“The most fascinating GAA team of the last twenty years,” states the quote emblazoned across the back cover of ‘Blood Brothers’, Michael Moynihan’s excellent take on the modern Cork hurling story.

It may appear a lofty claim, but who can make a compelling counter argument against such an assertion?

Look at it this way: has there ever been anything louder than a whisper of discontent from any Kilkenny panel over the past 10 years?

Some would point to Charlie Carter’s acrimonious departure, but even he himself only let his hair down with the media once his inter-county days were well and truly over.

It’s also worth pointing out that Cody and his panel are supported by an ego-light county board happy to let the team do the only talking that really matters: delivering titles on the field of play.

In contrast, the Cork county board, in the view of many of the Rebel players interviewed by Moynihan for ‘Blood Brothers’, has distanced itself with the current generation ever since the 2002 strike.

And given the utter intransigence that’s being
currently demonstrated by the board (at the time of writing), it appears that that gap is widening – and considerably.

Whether it’s been by accident or design (and for my money it’s the former), the perception that some of the current Cork players see themselves as bigger than their manager, is out there.

It’s a feeling that’s shared by many within the Cork county boundary itself, and it’s one that’s going to take some shifting from the mindsets of older GAA fans in particular.

Therefore, is a Cork-based author, who clearly doesn’t want to burn bridges with players no more than I’d want to with Waterford players, in the best position to see the woods from the trees?

To give Moynihan his due, there are only be a handful of journalists in the country who could have done as good a job as he’s done with ‘Blood Brothers’.

The co-operation he received from players still togging out regularly, along with the input from former managers and selectors is, from my recall, unprecedented.

But, and again I suspect through no fault of the author, the lack of a dissenting voice in ‘Blood Brothers’ – i.e. the views of county board members such as the one and only Frank Murphy, is notable.

However, as the book’s promotional literature cleverly states, this is, fundamentally, a players’ story, essentially ticking the disclaimer box when it comes to that particular observation.

And of course, through no fault of the respected Irish Examiner sportswriter, the ongoing heave-ho between the players and Gerald McCarthy/Cork county board means his story ends without absolute resolution.

But that’s the compromise one has to make when
dealing with a living, breathing story like this.

However well-known the modern Cork hurling tale may be to some hurling fans, it has never been subject to the sort of extensive treatment the author provides between two covers here.

And for anyone into their sport, this work makes for essential reading, offering a tremendously deep insight into what makes Cork’s hurlers tick.

The frank and occasionally brutal honesty of the players, particularly, it’s worth pointing out in relation to themselves, reminds readers that their primary objective is to play hurling.

From the outside looking in it may not always seem that way but that for me is the central theme of this fascinating story.

The ties binding these players that have hurled with such distinction over the past decade remain taught.

If any panellist has ever fallen out with a fellow player, there’s no mention of it here and I’d suspect that’s not down to Moynihan’s oversight: this is a remarkably tight bunch of players.

What is occasionally lacking, however, is the sense that maybe the players erred in the way they’ve approached some contentious issues over the years.

Reference is made to a hurley apparently thrown towards Setanta Ó hAilpín by a Kilkenny selector during the 2003 All-Ireland final.

In contrast, there’s absolutely no mention of Cork players guilty of exactly the same offence during two of their epic meetings with Waterford. Stones and glasshouses spring to mind.

The ‘Semplegate’ issue, for example, could easily have been avoided had Cork, when seeing Clare emerge from their dressing room, just held back from making their emergence out there and then.

No doubt, the ‘not an inch’ argument would have been offered, i.e. “we take no f**king backward steps for nobody”, etc. Having captained a few teams myself over the years, I’d probably have had similar thoughts.

But the benefit that comes with drawing a deep breath is an important virtue in leadership and more often than not serves a team better than the primal rage that occasionally surfaces.

The book includes a suggestion that Cork players would have knocked over some of the Artane Band when taking to the field of play at Croke Park if the young musicians happened to be in their way en route.

Now if I knocked a kid over before a match, I’d be more distracted by that rather than being a minute late for the pre-match drill, the latter pioneered by Cork under Donal O’Grady.

But what this serves to demonstrate is the absolute tunnel vision (no pun intended) which the players had, particularly under O’Grady and John Allen.

Nothing – and I mean nothing – was left to chance and the short-passing game also pioneered under O’Grady brought both him and his successor John Allen
the ultimate reward.

There are occasional flashes of humour in ‘Blood Brothers’ but it never sets out to grab your attention through rib-tickling anecdote.

These are serious sportsmen, very serious in fact and they want to remembered as winners, as people who made principled stands and never relented on any of them.

And in my view, they have already achieved that,
having reached four successive All-Ireland finals. Whether their conscientious objections will be serve to benefit their legacy or merely act as a deterrent remains to be seen.

“We believe that Cork should mean more than representation,” Donal Óg Cusack told Michael Moynihan.

In more ways than one, the current crop of Cork
players has certainly made that contention plainly evidenced, and the author captures that essence
throughout this fine read.

 

‘Blood Brothers – The Inside Story of the Cork Hurlers 1996-2008′ is published by Gill & Macmillan

For full story see The Munster Express newspaper or
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