This is a se­ri­ous con­test with a se­ri­ous edge and a lot at stake

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - DER­MOT CROWE

The prod­uct has al­ways been good but not well ex­posed

YOU’LL have gath­ered by now, from var­i­ous player au­to­bi­ogra­phies and the ev­i­dence of your own eyes, that the hurlers of Cork and Kilkenny didn’t have much time for each other. Whether this has any bear­ing on camo­gie ri­valry be­tween the same coun­ties is de­bat­able, but the meet­ing of Kilkenny and Cork in the se­nior fi­nal in Croke Park this af­ter­noon has a rip­ple of ten­sion and the po­ten­tial for some fireworks.

A lit­tle ri­valry is es­sen­tial and grist to the pub­lic­ity mill, all the more im­por­tant to a camo­gie move­ment keen to spread the word and widen its ap­peal. Last year Kilkenny went to Croke Park, un­der the man­age­ment of Ann Downey, and won their first se­nior camo­gie cham­pi­onship in 22 years. In do­ing so they stripped Cork of their ti­tle and shifted the cen­tre of power. Re­la­tions looked testy enough. In the hand­shake rit­ual be­fore the match Cork’s Han­nah Looney gave a lit­tle dunt into Col­lette Dormer and got a push back for her trou­bles, but Kilkenny set the stan­dard and won the day.

Camo­gie prof­ited too. While Looney would later com­plain, le­git­i­mately, that many of the so­cial me­dia re­spon­ders had no in­ter­est in camo­gie, she might have un­der­es­ti­mated its pro­mo­tional value. Many in­deed may have had lit­tle or no in­ter­est prior to this but they may well have taken a bit more in­ter­est after. They might be more in­clined to see how this re­match goes on the back of some­thing as pe­riph­eral and overblown as a lapse in the pre-match eti­quette.

At any rate, this was the All-Ire­land se­nior camo­gie fi­nal, with a lot at stake, and not the Rose of Tralee. Th­ese are the slightly sub­ver­sive off-script mo­ments that peo­ple re­mem­ber. It was too late to have a bear­ing on the day’s at­ten­dance which was the fifth high­est for an All-Ire­land fi­nal since 1932, marginally ex­ceed­ing 20,000. The fi­nals also at­tracted an in­creased tele­vi­sion au­di­ence, with 328,000 tuned in at its peak dur­ing the se­nior fi­nal, which was broad­cast live on RTÉ. This represented an in­crease on the pre­vi­ous high of 305,000 who watched the 2015 fi­nals. The fig­ures are healthy, on the up.

Camo­gie has been crit­i­cised for be­ing slow to latch on to greater tele­vi­sion ex­po­sure but it is now fully em­brac­ing the medium and looks to be al­ready en­joy­ing the ben­e­fits. Ladies’ foot­ball stole a march on it when us­ing tele­vi­sion to broaden its reach and au­di­ence, ar­rang­ing a ben­e­fi­cial deal with TG4. In 2014, camo­gie had just two games tele­vised by RTÉ. The at­ten­dance at the camo­gie fi­nal the same year was just 12,000.

Last year’s All-Ire­land premier ju­nior fi­nal was streamed live for the first time. And this year has seen fur­ther ad­vances with all the knock­out matches be­ing tele­vised live. Last year they tele­vised the semi-fi­nals for the first time and this sea­son they widened that to in­clude the quar­ter-fi­nals. All of this helps to as­sim­i­late the game more into peo­ple’s lives.

The prod­uct has al­ways been good but it has not al­ways been suf­fi­ciently well ex­posed. This is why — though not the in­ten­tion — that some­thing like a con­tro­ver­sial hand­shak­ing in­ci­dent can be­come a pro­mo­tional gift. There is no rea­son to be­lieve that the feel­ings un­der­ly­ing it were not gen­uine.

Cork and Kilkenny ri­valry is in­tense and Kilkenny, hav­ing de­nied Cork a three-in-a-row last year, are now hold­ing the big stick. They also de­nied Cork a place in the record books last year as the most suc­cess­ful county in the se­nior cham­pi­onship. Cork cur­rently share the most ti­tles won with Dublin on 26.

The ap­par­ent re­vival of Dublin is also good for camo­gie and the po­ten­tial spread of au­di­ence in­ter­est. For a county with such a proud record his­tor­i­cally, Dublin have fallen from grace but show signs of de­fin­i­tive re­cov­ery. Kilkenny had a try­ing time against them in the re­cent semi-fi­nals be­fore com­ing through by a flat­ter­ing eight points, the sec­ond goal ar­riv­ing deep in in­jury time. Dublin were ap­pear­ing in their first semi-fi­nal in 27 years. They were bid­ding for their first fi­nal ap­pear­ance in 31 years. They look to be on the way back.

Kilkenny had some dif­fi­cul­ties in the group stages, need­ing a point from Player of the Year Denise Gaule to gain a draw against Clare in Nowlan Park in early July. Cork de­feated them in the league in April at a stage when both coun­ties had qual­i­fied for the semi-fi­nals of the com­pe­ti­tion. But when it re­ally mat­tered, Kilkenny de­liv­ered, win­ning the league fi­nal against Cork which leaves them poised for a sec­ond league-cham­pi­onship dou­ble in suc­ces­sion to­day. Cork reached their fourth con­sec­u­tive All-Ire­land fi­nal with a win over Gal­way, with­stand­ing late pres­sure after they saw an eight-point lead slip.

They are out­siders in what is ex­pected to be a low-scor­ing game, with Kilkenny and Cork both play­ing their cen­tre-backs deep and plac­ing greater num­bers in their own half of the field. Cork’s prospects have been se­verely un­der­mined with in­jury to nine-time All-Star Gemma O’Con­nor, who went off in the sec­ond half of the Gal­way game. She is a se­ri­ous loss to the team, and it is likely that Ash­ling Thomp­son will be re­de­ployed to her po­si­tion.

Kilkenny have more depth on the bench, as ev­i­denced by the ab­sence of sev­eral of their All-Ire­land fi­nal team of last year when they beat Cork in this year’s league fi­nal. They are favourites to win again. Cork are in ac­tion on the dou­ble, their in­ter­me­di­ates fac­ing Meath, with the day’s play get­ting un­der way when Dublin and West­meath meet in the premier ju­nior fi­nal. The key hand­shake mo­ment will still be the one which sees the win­ning cap­tain ac­cept the con­grat­u­la­tions of Camo­gie As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Cather­ine Neary at the end of the se­nior fi­nal, be­fore be­ing awarded the O’Duffy Cup. That will be the least hos­tile hand­shake of all but also the most de­sired and most rel­e­vant.

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