WHEN LAR CORBETT failed to make the Tipperary selection from the last 50 years on the Irish Independent’s ‘GAA Giants’ pull-out last Monday, it raised a few eyebrows.
You might be dealt short shrift for asking for any of the six starting forwards from the selection – Jimmy Doyle, Liam Devaney, Donie Nealon, Eoin Kelly, Nicky English and Michael ‘Babs’ Keating – to be dropped but you can’t help but feel Tipp’s only ever forward to be named Hurler of the Year is unlucky to miss out.
The argument is often put forth that Corbett has only really shone at the top level for three or four years but, if that’s the case, then 2008 debutant Joe Canning’s selection for Galway ahead of All-Ireland winners Brendan Lynskey and Eanna Ryan doesn’t wash.
It’s all subjective of course (including what criteria you deem most relevant) and you’ll struggle to find two people who agree on any 15 in the Indo’s work but it does infer a question: has Corbett fulfilled his potential?
For a man who has scored 19 goals in his most recent 16 championship games while hitting 4-4 in a Munster final and a hat-trick in an All-Ireland win, it’s fair to say he found his peak. And for a man who does not take frees, he is abnormally prolific. Few could match or top his 19-31 from 2009 to 2011. Never mind how his presence opens up space for his fellow forwards, or how adept he is at assisting them.
Last year Corbett did not make his first league start until April 3 against Galway but scored 0-4 and set up multiple of that for the likes of Shane Bourke. “Larry gave me a good start, threw me out a couple of handy balls early on for scores and that kind of got me into the game,” said Bourke who scored 3-4 that day.
Eoin Kelly, John O’Brien and Lar Corbett carry much of Tipperary attacking’s threat ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
The issue is regaining that form with an even later start this season but that, as this writer has often argued, is married to whether his team can. Tipperary in 2011 were arguably riding off the confidence and fear factor that 2010’s All-Ireland win engendered – instead of playing their own game, the likes of Waterford picked their side based on the blue and gold opposition with disastrous effects.
Anthony Daly saw what was happening and Dublin went man for man, like for like, almost pulling off a massive shock when down five of his main men. Kilkenny went mano a mano and we all know what happened next – for one, Corbett didn’t score.
So for the Thurles man to again thrive and thrill, the expansive, varied game of the pre-Declan Ryan era has to be in working order. To be fair, they have tried to reintroduce if the league is anything to go by. The loss to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park seemed to be the last straw for their route-one hurling as there was a marked change in style in the big win over Waterford, and the switching of play was very noticeable in the drawn game with Cork. Deciding who to play at number five seems to be the biggest issue for Ryan right now because otherwise his team have much to be positive about.
All that is missing is goals, so with Corbett, Seamus Callanan, Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher and Eoin Kelly (who has yet to start a meaningful game this year) to come into the fray, things are looking up for the Premier County. After all, it will be a long summer.
His very presence is probably the biggest boon of all – the mood in the county – ahead of the Limerick game because Corbett is unlikely to feature on the field. Not too many of us would be shocked to see him come on and bang in a goal but you feel Tipperary should have enough firepower to deal with the Treaty County in any case.
Knowing that Lar is waiting in the wings is a safety blanket for his team-mates, the knowledge that everthing is okay, that another forward can be himself and not have to emulate a former Hurler of the Year. It all greases the wheels and lifts the clouds. Look at what DJ Carey’s return did for Kilkenny and Brian Corcoran’s – after a three-year absence – did for Cork. All-Irelands followed on.
Having turned 31 just a month before rejoining the panel, Corbett still has plenty of time for more titles and to end any discussions over his ranking among Tipp’s great forwards. Last 50 years or more.
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