Between Cork’s All-Ireland victories in 1986 and 1990, only the momentous 1987 Munster Final replay defeat to Tipperary at Fitzgerald Stadium represents a fixture of theirs which registers in the wider hurling consciousness.
Producing one notable hurling display in the ‘barren’ three summers between titles, even if it was in defeat (only 2004 to Waterford was a more glorious modern reversal), has not traditionally been the Cork way.
Three All-Ireland Finals have been won and lost since the Rebels last contested a fixture which captured the hurling universe’s attention: another replay defeat, this time to Clare in another replay where goals fell like raindrops.
Sinking their teeth so deeply into Tipp flesh at Semple, in a match which saw both counties eclipse the tally registered in that famous replay in Killarney, certainly demonstrated that the steel Cork produced in the League, both against Tipp and Waterford, didn’t deserve a slot in the hen’s teeth file.
The Rebels are resurgent, but whether they’re well and truly back remains to be seen: right now they’re potentially in difficult second album territory, desperate to back up their unexpected early chart topper.
The rush to proclaim the Munster Championship opener in Thurles as one of the all-time great provincial tussles may have been partly attributable to early season enthusiasm, but the sense that Cork have turned a corner at long last, is undeniable. And Waterford are now firmly on guard, as they take to the summer stage.
How a team which lost both a League Final replay and All-Ireland semi-final replay last year could be described as coming in under the Championship radar strikes me as somewhat odd. Perhaps the 11-week break between competitive outings is the primary reason why Waterford enters the campaign without trumpet blast. But let’s not knock it, folks.
A good deal of the winter has been spent on the novenas when it comes to the fitness of Darragh Fives, a player whose potential greatness on the wider hurling stage may yet be stymied due to his Bryan Robson-like levels of injury.
Were he 100 per cent fit, perhaps only Austin Gleeson or Jamie Barron might be pencilled into the team sheet ahead of the Tourin clubman.
The ripples caused by Tom Devine’s perfectly understandable decision to do what 21-year-olds studying medicine ought to do – live a little and see the world as opposed to spending each and every summer hurling – have long since abated.
And I may well stand accused of being a tad unfair in referencing one player who is out of consideration for the time being and another who has moved heaven and earth to regain match fitness.
Word from management has it that Fives, along with Barry Coughlan, are thankfully good to go this Sunday, yet one can’t help feeling the listed team in the match programme may yet carry one or two disclaimers. Time alone shall reveal all on that front.
One can never read too much into what one observes during challenge matches, but it was difficult to suppress the rush of excitement when Stephen Bennett rattled in three brilliantly finished goals against Offaly in Ballysaggart.
And to see Pauric Mahony and Jake Dillon hurl primarily as providers that evening out west, with Austin Gleeson primarily in the attacking third of the paddock, got one thinking about this team catching fire. The talent within white and blue is beyond reproach, so too the determination of a manager clearly committed to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s mission statement.
Liam MacCarthy represents the ultimate goal for Waterford. It has to.
Almost 60 years without an All-Ireland senior title represent an extraordinary near on inexplicable gap between titles given the pedigree of hurler Waterford has produced, particularly over the past 20 years.
Cast one’s mind back to the closing seconds of the last Championship match this side played at the home of hurling. Epic. Engaging. Heatbreaking. Then consider the fine margins Derek McGrath has gone over repeatedly in the interim. Hope. Dream. Believe.
These men have earned our faith. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Right now, all that matters is next Sunday. Seventy minutes in the mid-summer Semple air. Deise Abú…