With the exception of Waterford last Sunday, no side has come as close to working out the champions as Clare did in last year’s All Ireland semi-final. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that much of Cork’s motivation – at least in the early days – was the 2003 final defeat by Kilkenny. So when the two sides meet this Sunday, it will be impossible to avoid the fact that the game is being played in the shadow of men who aren’t there.
Maybe Clare are burning inside more than their opponents just now. That defeat last August was heartbreak on a stone-melting scale. Nobody could watch poor Colin Lynch try, try and try again to score long-range points and fail each time without feeling for the guy. What made it worse was the fact that, shooting aside, he was the best player on the pitch that day and yet his waywardness was what split the sides in the final reckoning. The deathless cruelty of sport.
Kilkenny have their own demons from this stage last year dealt with by now. In coming out on the wrong side of the ludicrously high-scoring game against Galway last year, they registered the kind of careless loss that they felt should really have been the preserve of other, more ordinary sides. Galway bore the brunt a few weeks back when Kilkenny burnt them off in the first 20 minutes of their quarter-final in Thurles.
So the motivation here for them isn’t revenge and it isn’t making up for last year. No, what’s in their crosshairs is the seemingly unstoppable march towards immortality of their only neighbours at the top of hurling’s roll of honour. Clare are this week’s problem but the year as a whole is about putting a hurdle in front of Cork on the first Sunday of next month.
A great team needs to be defined by a great rival. Sunday will tell the tale of who gets to audition for the part this year.
Cusack is Cork’s
hurler of the hour
A quick – and not unrelated – story. Before Donal