Patrick Horgan’s ambush, where Dublin’s Gary Maguire had appeared to be in full control, reinforced the one idiom that this Championship had previously been lacking; occasionally tradition will betray the best intentions of inexperience...
Horgan’s initiative allowed him to steal away the sliotar from Maguire. While the finish appeared fortunate, it of course was not. There was something truly remarkable about that goal. At first viewing, the apparent ease with which Maguire approached the situation led to confusion and anguish as a great match was decided minutes before its time. How on earth had he misread the situation so poorly? He was much closer to it than Horgan; all he had to do was get the sliotar to hand and the plethora of blue jerseys surrounding him would have taken care of the isolated Horgan. It is likely that Gary Maguire made the same assumptions as I, and most of us who have no real idea at what speed the mind must travel in an arena such as this; the speed at which Pat Horgan’s mind sped. Upon viewing the replay we get the distinct impression that unless Maguire had vouched for the equally unsafe option of catching the sliotar first time there was very little he could do. He advanced on the breaking ball calmly, but with intention. He aimed his run to the inside of the onrushing Horgan. It would simply be a case of Horgan having to foul him to have any chance of stopping him. Perhaps, on another day, Maguire would have calmly run with clear intention and ignited a counter attack rejuvenating Dublin – but that was not to be this day.
Ultimately, Horgan possessed vision that Maguire could not accommodate for. Should you take the time to read David Foster Wallace’s essay on the excellence of Roger Federer, you will encounter the eloquence of this vision. It can be seen in those who continually excel in a sporting arena. At the top level of men’s singles tennis for example, one must be able to react to a first serve ranging anywhere up to 150mph. As Wallace suggests, facing up to such speeds as this does not allow for the receiver to engage in any conscientious kind of response; it demands instantaneous action, reflex action. Horgan’s goal contained this rare kind of genius. The onrushing Maguire believed he could bring sliotar from ground to hurl to hand in time. In that span of time though, perhaps even less than the second that the sliotar sat airborne between hurl and hand, Horgan saw his chance and Cork scored the all decisive goal.
It will never be said that Dublin were any ‘worse’ than Cork on the day. It was a match where the teams found themselves level more often than not. While the sending-off of Dublin’s Ryan O’Dwyer shifted the momentum back into Cork’s favour, before Horgan’s goal four minutes from the end it wouldn’t have appeared to have made all that much of a difference to the game as a contest. Fourteen-man Dublin performed far more convincingly then Cork or Kilkenny did on losing a man in recent Championship ties. However, the fluency of Horgan would render this an admirable but fruitless response.
Ger Loughnane would note in the aftermath of the game that Cork’s performance possessed a touch of closure that reflected their natural aptitude. This was a statement built on the aura of tradition. Cork looked more natural because history has deemed they should be. Although only an absolute minority of Cork players on this panel know the feeling of playing in an All-Ireland final, every one of them has experienced varieties of their county men winning finals of their own. This is a feeling no native Dublin player can share – on the Hurling field at least. Yet, these odds were stacked even higher against Kilkenny and yet, Dublin prevailed. This merely goes to exemplify the rarity of tradition’s exposure as a determining factor in the present, but the devastation it can occasionally cause. As a Woody Allen character once said; ‘tradition is the illusion of permanence.’ Allow for that illusion to become a reality and a county that has won 30 All-Irelands overall, but not one in eight years can see the promise of the present generation can embody the deliverance of those past. Thankfully for Cork - but by no means an insult to his Dublin/Clare counterpart - they had their memory of championships past as a constant presence.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy – JBM – will deserve more credit than most managers do should Cork go on to win on September 8th. His introduction of previously unheard of players, his disposal of names assumed to be carved in stone and his sheer enthusiasm for Cork hurling have had a managerial impact equal in importance to perhaps only John Allen of Limerick this year. However, he is simultaneously representative of success. As a player he won 6 All-Ireland winners medals – five for hurling and one for football none the less, and as Cork’s hurling manager he brought them an All-Ireland against Kilkenny in 1999. He was, and continues to be, special.
Finally, what now for Dublin? It is hard not to feel a pang of regret for what could have been. Solace however can be sought in what the future may bring. If Anthony Daly can maintain his hunger – and there is no reason why he shouldn’t – then Dublin will have every reason to be optimistic. They are the Leinster Champions now and, like Limerick in Munster, they went about claiming their province the hard way. They have every potential to advance and soon become the All-Ireland Champions, but until then they will merely need to maintain the level of performance they achieved this year. A 60,000 plus attendance in Croke Park today – 10,000 and 20,000 ahead of either Semi-Final last year – shows that a Dublin team will always generate an eager crowd when the going is good. If they can build on what has been done they may soon rival their companions of the bigger ball.