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Carter may prove the Cats' messiah

by Kevin Cashman was published in the Sunday Independent on Sunday the 10th of September 2000

Kilkenny have no passengers . . . and they have Charlie Carter . . . and that's why they may beat Offaly, writes Kevin Cashman

THE best that may be said about the latest proposals for overhauling the hurling championship is that it is a mighty pity that they were not enforced before we got landed with this final.

We've heard and read all sorts of dire prognostications about the game becoming bogged down by tactical subtleties and obscurities. But, in truth, dangers of Offaly getting up to these or those contrivances on the day are not the major concern. The major concern is that they are in the final at all.

And, anyway, their game contains little enough in the way of convolutions and complications. Joe Dooley's turning up in his own half-back line to lend a hand, especially under puckouts, was just about the most surprising thing they did against Cork. And that was hardly an innovation John Leahy was at it a decade since and Christy Ring forty years before him. What Offaly have in supreme measure is what we who can look back from the high hill of old age used to be startled by and terrified by when practised by Tipp's great team of half a century since: supernal ``combination and teamwork'' it was called then. Nowadays, in the frantic pursuit of meaninglessness, passing the ball to your colleague has to be called ``tactics.''

Another thing: when you hear some honcho blathering away about ``the balance of the side'' do you know what he means? Do you believe for a second that he does?

And, while we're at it, don't you think it is high time for Liam Griffin to ease up on his obsession with DJ Carey? Is it not hard enough to watch RTE's notions of camera work and presentation, while you are recovering on a Monday evening, without having to put up with a dosage of idolatry which is now declining from the merely ridiculous into the indecent?

Take the goal against Galway. There you saw a truly fine defender, Brian Feeney, suffering a lapse which was as shocking as hearing the Dalai Lama tell a smutty yarn or finding a split infinitive in the work of Evelyn Waugh. When Brian McEvoy hit his high and hopeful lob, Feeney, for no fathomable reason, was standing at least a dozen yards off Carey. So Carey fetched the sliotar and pucked a fairly routine shot into the net, which is what he'd be paid to do if the ``Show Me The Money'' mob had their way.

Whereupon Liam Griffin, rather than analyse the train of events which is what the hurling populace thinks he's there for, abandoned himself to the throes of instant and seemingly multiple orgasm. Will e'er a television set in the entire land survive dear Liam's convulsions if Carey ever scores a goal remotely approaching the virtuosity of English's kick in '87, or Foxy's flick in '91, or Fenton's whip in '87, or Barry Murphy's deathless double in '83?

DJ Carey is quite a good player. He is not, was not, the greatest hurler of all time nor even of the decade he inhabited. Joe Cooney, John Leahy, Brian Whelahan, Ciaran Carey and Mark Foley beside him, Brian Lohan, Brian Corcoran, Declan Ryan were the best hurlers of the '90s; and if you had to go to the Alamo or the GPO you'd want Michael Coleman and Martin Storey along. And for this observer's few halfpence Ciaran Carey was the best of the lot because as that grisly old war criminal, Churchill, might have said if he'd been sentenced to hang when he should have been, thus concentrating what was left of his mind `never in the history of hurling conflict have so many passengers owed so much to one man.'

Offaly beat Cork because almost uniformly throughout the field, their touch on the sliotar and use of the sliotar were better, and because all of the usual Cork passengers failed to pay their fares. But Kilkenny have no passengers certainly none as instantly identifiable as Cork's four. And Kilkenny's touch and use of the ball are quite as adept and attractive as Offaly's. So that Kilkenny can, in all probability, get by on smaller rations of possession than Cork's pace and hunger and youthful enthusiasm garnered.

Kilkenny's advantage of pace over Offaly may not be as pronounced as Cork's was, but it can hardly be doubted. Kinahan, Errity, Claffey, Pilkington, Ryan and Dooley Sr, are slow players by modern standards. Of course, most of them have skill and hurling IQ above the ordinary; the point is that today they play a side which is not notably lacking in such gifts.

Much perhaps too much has been made of the doubt over Brian McEvoy. After all, Offaly have to start without Hubert Rigney, who is every scintilla as influential a player. And Kilkenny have Canice Brennan amongst their subs surely as hefty a bonus as has sat on a bench since the days when Tipp used to keep Liam Devanney in reserve. Perhaps Kilkenny are regretting that Canice has not had a gallop or two in the championship; still the man's dignified handling of his trauma at the hands of his own ``supporters'' some years ago, and everything about his bearing since, suggests that he will `prove most royally' as The Bard put it, if called upon.

After the long Summer of hype, John Power has a great deal to live up to. One year ago and one year younger he achieved little enough when faced by a genuine centre-back. Now, in the wake of one fairly impressive performance on a wing-back, Brian Whelehan, and another on Cathal Moore, who is not a centre-back whatever else he may be, Power is being looked to as even more of a messiah than Carey. Here's one who is not expecting any walks on the waves and billows of Corporate Park.

If we see any such, they may very well be performed by Charlie Carter. Offaly have never quite got to grips with him since he was finally given a secure place by Kilkenny. In fact, in Kilkenny where they very notably think long and hard about the game of hurling sometimes to the extent of outsmarting themselves they are now probably regretting long and hard that they did not give Charlie his security much earlier in the '90s. In Cork we think long and hard, too, except that much of what we think is complacency or cliche; in Tipp it is self-delusion; in Clare paranoia; in Wexford nostalgia; and in Limerick grudgery.

Apart from the taint of the back door, one other very solid reason dictates that it would be altogether better for the game if Offaly were beaten today: with virtually no hullabaloo about it they have been for a few seasons prolific pullers of nasty strokes on opponents: just recall the belts suffered by Andy Comerford and Jackie Carson and Diarmuid O'Sullivan and several others. If that kind of thuggery had been dished out by Tipperary or Cork or Antrim, for that matter we'd still be hearing about it at the GAA's 150th birthday.

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