Big Balls and Small Sticks
We’ve had a debate running our discussion forum for a while now about an age old Cork GAA gripe.
For once it’s not to do with nods and winks across tables down the Pairc, walking across young hurlers chests or the explosive play-for-pay debate which thankfully seems to have been swept under some very thick carpet – even though if you want to get stuck into those topics they’re all there too online or off it.
The one that has reared its head again recently is the tense debate about footballers getting less respect than hurlers in Cork and it deserves some rational pro-Cork thought in the brief ceasefire between league and championship lest civil war break out.
|The American civil war was largely based on a dispute over the civil rights of footballers. Hence the confederate flag at Cork matches|
The footballers have completed a sensational Division 1 three-in-a-row run and won Sam Maguire in 2010 so there is a feeling that as a result the football crowd should be growing to the same size as hurlers’. Because it isn’t, the footballers are deemed to be second class citizens.
The logic appears to some make sense on the surface – lads in Cork jerseys lifting silverware - but is too simplistic. The same thinking would suggest that after the 2005 and 2011 league wins Cork City FC should be stuffing Turners Cross to the rafters at every home game since.
Getting into the Premier Division again has given the club’s support base a healthy bunk but the huge crowd for city’s first game against Shamrock Rovers was never going to last as the losses began to mount.
|What Corkonian doesn't crave tying Kerry up in knots|
Winning in any sport brings crowds – who hasn’t taken a little more interest in women’s boxing now that Katie Taylor looks like being Ireland’s only hope in London? – but some people’s expectation of how this pans out in the long term is unrealistic.
Teams might find an increase of 10 or 20% in support after a league, cup or championship winning season but if less committed fans don’t see continued success and/or high quality entertainment that often drops off again in following seasons while only hardcore fans stick out the less successful times.
|Magic Lehane knocks one over against Waterford in the league|
Loyal fans, particularly in Cork where passion for sport is, at times, almost worrying, find it extremely hard to accept that other fans can not be as committed to a team as they are. We see this passion on our forums everyday. Fortunately for the human race, humans are different – not everyone can commit to travelling to Ballybofey on a cold, wet February Saturday night or maintain a sentry-like post in the Shed every second Friday night.
People are busy and nowadays they are pickier about what they spend their time and money on.
Cork footballers should not feel disrespected because eight thousand locals don’t turn out to see them hammer Waterford or Clare by twenty points.
|Larry: not exactly unknown around Cork!|
Almost any Corkonian with a pulse admires anyone who puts on a Cork jersey, male or female. Whatever sport it might be.
The comparision between our passion for hurling and football alone is unfair. You can’t take the two in isolation and draw a conclusion that our footballers are being treated like some sort discriminated minority.
Compare the crowds Cork City FC get with the footballers and the allegations of disrespect looks a little weak. If Cork football is supposed to be feeling sorry for itself because of slack attendances then imagine how the Rebelettes would feel with their double quadruple multipack victories over the last five or six years?
|Small turnouts hasn't stopped the Rebelettes doing the fifty-in-a-row|
The truth is that hurling stands apart from other sports for two main reasons. Firstly, it requires a more unique set of skills than soccer or football. Like watching a tight rope walker or listening to a guitar solo like those Rory Gallagher mesmerised crowds with, we are impressed by skills like this not just because the performers are brilliant at them but also because we ourselves couldn’t possibly even begin to emulate them.
Dedication to hurling and football tends to vary depending on which part of the county you’re in but most Cork fellas will have grown up kicking a ball of some sort. If asked right now, you could probably get by in a five-aside. The basic skills of the game are almost built-in to us from hours of after-school games that accommodated even the bandiest most awkward kids.
|Galvin: another reason to love beating Kerry|
Hurling requires more specific dedication to master even the basics. Give most of us a hurley and we’re satisfied if the sliotar just connects with the bas and somebody’s head doesn’t require surgery when the ball comes to rest. Trying to do the same while being hopped by five manic Tipperary forwards is reserved for only an elite few.
That’s why hurling is set apart from other sports.
Even in sometimes drab hurling games you can admire the touch of a classy hurler or a fella picking a tiny sliotar out of a dark evening sky despite being surrounded by defenders all slashing at his hand with dangerous wooden sticks.
Remember Conor Lehane’s sweet point off the deck against Waterford in February? The crowd did a 'whoaahhhhh!' – as if they had just seen a blindfolded juggler on a unicycle bunny hop across a busy motorway. You dont get those moments as often in other sports.
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Secondly it has been the most successful Cork sport. With more All-Ireland titles than other sports, hurling has been burned into Corkonians’ brains as the most likely regular source of dopamine – that much sought after uplifting buzz we all get when we walk from a stadium victorious. That mindset takes decades to evolve.
If the footballers win another All-Ireland this year, beating the Dubs and Kerry en route with Messrs Goulding and O’Connor knocking in points from ludicrous angles, you can be sure more fans will start to fill seats at their games.
We’ll be there regardless and we encourage everyone to come along – let’s just stop giving legs to this pointless and unfounded notion of the inferiority of some sets of Rebels over others.