There are degrees of controversy and everything has a context. The furore over the carry-on in Croke Park on Sunday owes itself to the fact that – whatever the wrongs about the referee having to run the gauntlet in an amateur sport – Louth were unquestionably robbed. The sheer unfairness of it all, with the Wee County going for their first Leinster title since 1957, puts paid to the nonsense notion that ‘these things tend to even themselves out.’ Over the course of how many lifetimes?
If Meath had been the better team on the day the outcry would be less intense. Likewise, when Thierry Henry ‘single-handedly’ carried France to the World Cup finals the brouhaha was heightened by the fact that Ireland had been the better team in the play-off second leg. Natural justice was denied. And so ultimately football fans were glad that Spain eventually prevailed in Johannesburg and not the dastardly Dutch, whose cynical, crude approach might have won them a sufficient number of matches but few fans.
Earlier in Thurles, there was the late free that led to Tony Browne’s equalising goal in a grueling but gripping Munster final. The consensus is that while the award may have been on the spurious side (though the call against Brian Murphy for playing John Mullane’s hurley when the ball was in flight could be seen as a tiny bit of karma for what went on in 2004), Waterford definitely deserved a draw. Plus there was the fact that the umpires signaled a first-half Ben O’Connor free as over the bar when it was clear from the terrace and the television pictures that the ball went wide. Had the officials got that decision right Waterford could have won. But we won’t complain about it. Now. All’s well that ends well.
As a match Sunday’s spectacle at Semple Stadium mightn’t have scaled the thespian heights of previous Waterford-Cork encounters. Great expectations don’t always make for great matches – but what drama.
Davy Fitzgerald will definitely be the happier of the two managers this week. Tactically he got it pretty much spot on, though it’s moot as to what was more significant: that the Waterford players didn’t abide by the gameplan for a period of the second half (his contention), or the withdrawal of Liam Lawlor and Cork’s introduction of Michael Cussen.
Taking off the full-back for fear he might get a second yellow destabilised the Déise defence for a spell and Cork quickly cashed in. But, having turned a four-point deficit into a five-point lead in the space of 12 minutes, Cork should have wrapped the game up.
Deceptively dexterous, Cussen is a handful. Until he came on, Fitzgerald was content to allow the marvellous Michael Walsh to leave Jerry O’Connor remain unmarked out the field in order to provide protection to the full-back line and curtail the supply into Aisake Ó hAilpín. It worked well, with the Cork targetman spending most of the time complaining (about what it was hard to tell; it wasn’t as if he was receiving the sort of treatment Pat Mulcahy meted out to Paul Flynn in 2003.)
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