Thursday 23 November 2017

Waiting in the long grass worked for Cork ... what about their Rebel son, Ger?


Ger Cunningham. Pic: Sportsfile
Ger Cunningham. Pic: Sportsfile

As a bona fide legend of Leeside, Ger Cunningham is sure to have enjoyed Cork's toppling of the old Tipp enemy.

But, wearing his Sky Blue bainisteoir's hat, will he have derived confidence from what unfolded in Semple Stadium?

That's a moot point: you can't predict how Dublin underdogs will fare in Tullamore on Sunday based on an unfancied Cork's Thurles form a week before.

But it does raise that old botanical question, beloved by GAA commentators at this early-championship juncture, as they reflect on the merits or demerits of a flying league finish.

"Is it better to be pulling up trees or waiting in the long grass?" they ask.

Good question. If only we'd an answer.

Truth is, there is no straight-forward one. As a general rule, better to be playing well in March/April if you aim to achieve in May/June/July and beyond.

League victories breed self-belief. Confidence cultivates a winning mindset. It's a virtuous circle ... in the same way that a spiral of defeats and diminishing belief becomes a vicious one.

Perverse universe

But? The above theory frequently doesn't apply on Planet GAA. In this oft-perverse universe, some teams can stink the place out in spring only to come up smelling of summer roses.

It's not that Cork hurlers were actually that bad during the league just gone; but they're young and unproven, with all the meandering inconsistency you expect from such a team.

Hence, they could beat Clare one week only to fall heavily to Dublin the next. Or they could edge out (an admittedly qualified) Tipperary to clinch a quarter-final place, only to falter a week later at home to Limerick.

Suffice to say, the general consensus is that our emerging Rebels weren't yet ready for the All-Ireland champions.

But then it comes back to Tipp ... for all their initial spring promise fuelling premature two-in-a-row talk, they weren't pulling up trees by the league's end.

Nor, for that matter, were they hiding in the long grass; more like wilting in plain view of all who watched their Division 1 final collapse to Galway.

In that context, Cork's victory was less of a surprise: we may have half-expected a Premier backlash but, for whatever reason or reasons, Tipp's momentum has stalled with perilously bad timing. Only time will tell if they can get it back.

This Sunday's collision in Tullamore is a slightly different matter. Here, Galway have all the momentum whereas Dublin appear to have none.

The Tribesmen's most recent performance was more than just a league title winning display; it was a statement of summer intent.

Whereas Dublin's relegation play-off defeat in Ennis was symptomatic of a league campaign that flattered to deceive: ahead at the break, dreaming of survival, only to fade away.

Moreover, the presumed bounce that would come with the return of the Cuala Eight has surely been negated, at least partly, by the decisions of Paul and Mark Schutte not to re-enlist after all.

Doom and gloom

If all this sounds like Sky Blue doom and gloom, there are morsels of hope worth clinging to. Dublin are similar to Cork - committed to youth, several of whom earned their spurs even in the midst of a difficult spring.

Their results graph against Galway, over several seasons, is sufficiently roller-coaster as to caution against definitive forecasts this weekend.

Then there is the fact - yes, fact - that Galway's suddenly elevated status is predicated largely on one standout performance, against Tipp last month.

Were pundits shouting from the rooftops after they overcame Limerick in a semi-final snoozefest? No.

It's true that, over the past few relatively consistent seasons, they have gone some distance to banish the 'Galway enigma' stereotype. And that's why waiting in the long grass probably won't be enough for our paradoxical Dubs.

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