Cork still have a few kinks to iron out, says TOM LYONS, but they are certainly moving in the right direction
WHAT a marvellous second half of hurling Cork produced in Thurles on Sunday but I must admit, when they trailed by eight points coming up to half time, following a very poor first-half performance, I thought they were gone.
Clare really came to win this one. For once the Red Army was equalled in numbers by the Clare supporters, who out-shouted, out-flagged, out-bannered and out-coloured the Cork fans, a rare occurrence.
The first half of the game exactly mirrored the support as Clare took command against a Cork outfit that was sluggish in the extreme, second to most balls.
Cork like a fast pitch but, to our surprise, the Thurles sod was weather-burned and much too fast. As a result, for the first time in two seasons, Cork’s first touch was letting them down.
We were lucky to be only eight points behind at that stage, Clare, had they looked for more goals, could have been out the gate.
Salvation arrived in injury time before the break, from the man who has been Cork’s stand-out player all season, captain Seamus Harnedy. His great catch on the forty from an Anthony Nash puck-out set up Luke Meade for a superb goal and when Mark Coleman followed with a wonderful sideline cut, the pendulum had swung and Cork were on their way.
There was a slight breeze, which favoured Clare in the second half, so Cork were in trouble at half time but the changes by management made a huge difference. Colm Spillane onto the rampant Calnan, Christopher Joyce to centre back, Mark Coleman to his usual wing position, Darragh Fitzgibbon (sick during the week) to centre forward and Daniel Kearney to midfield.
Add in the extra work rate, pushing up on the Clare puck-outs and the marvellous point-taking and Cork owned the second half. We cheered each point to the hilt and cherished each fifty-fifty ball won by Cork. This was Cork’s best showing of the season as they turned an eight-point deficit into a five-point lead. Once again Thurles belonged to Cork and the Red Army.
Clare’s challenge disintegrated in the face of the Cork storm and their brittle confidence was shattered as they made basic errors and missed simple scores, in total contrast to their lively first-half performance when they made Cork look very ordinary. But we’ll let the Clare mentors worry about their team’s failure, the Cork mentors still have a lot of problems to be dealing with before they hit Croke Park for the semi-final.
Damien Cahalane has been well-beaten at full back in a few games this season and is not repeating last season’s improved hurling. Why was he playing Conlon from behind when the only hope of beating the Clare hero was to beat him to the ball? Spillane played the ball and nullified Conlon but is Spillane a full back? Cork also struggled at centre back with Coleman unhappy until he moved back to the wing. Joyce filled in well but he is also being caught for scores and mistakes.
Fitzgibbon didn’t figure at midfield in the first half but he was reported to be ill during the week. He changed the game when moved to centre forward in the second half.
What has happened to Conor Lehane in the last few games? He is only a pale shadow of the player who can terrorize defences and a single point from play from the talented Midleton man is not what we’re used to.
Likewise, somebody needs to work with Shane Kingston to get the best from the Douglas player. He was way off his game on Sunday and never threatened the Clare defence. Kingston has difficulty in winning the fifty-fifty ball and prime possession but surely good coaching will improve that situation. In possession he can be lethal and Cork need him on form.
It’s good to see Eoin Cadogan back on the team but he has lost some of his pace and can be caught on the wing. He is as combatative and determined as ever and I wonder did the selectors ever consider him for full back?
On the plus side is the form of Pat Horgan, now showing the consistency that we all said he lacked, he is a true leader now. Likewise, Seamus Harnedy, God forbid anything happens to him as he is the engine and the heart of the side.
Daniel Kearney is having a marvellous season, outstanding in every game and so usable in many positions.
Luke Meade is being replaced in most games but is indispensable while on the pitch, making the most of his skills and his goal saved Cork on Sunday.
Colm Spillane is Mr Reliable in the back line, utterly dependable, while Sean O’Donoghue, when he’s good is very, very good and will steady with more experience.
Mark Coleman may not be repeating the heroics of 2017 but is vital with his superb skills, especially those side-line cuts and Bill Cooper has been the most improved hurler on the team during the past two seasons. Nash is Nash, making the odd blunder but so focused and intelligent.
As regards goals, Cork still lack a little bit of killer instinct and ruthlessness they will need against the likes of Galway or Kilkenny.
Clare should never have been allowed to score their third goal to close the gap to a dangerous two points at the end.
In reality this Cork team is still learning, still ironing out the kinks, still getting to grips with the intensity and physicality that will be needed to win an All-Ireland but back-to-back Munster titles show that it’s heading in the right direction.
This Cork team possesses a great confidence in its own ability and that confidence makes them very hard to beat. Confidence leads to success and the success then feeds the confidence.