BY MICHEÁL O'SULLIVAN
THEY say a rising tide lifts all boats. Well almost all.
With a clean sweep of underage Munster titles in both hurling and football and the senior hurlers in the All-Ireland final, our senior footballers are the only men’s group who didn’t achieve any measure of success in 2021.
The senior footballer’s boat is certainly carrying too much ballast at the moment and is sitting low in the water compared to those around it. However there are green shoots forming that would suggest that success might not be too far away.
Heart, belief and character typified the Cork minor footballers and the Cork senior hurlers victories in recent weeks. The minor footballers looked to be in serious trouble at the second water break with Limerick having dominated the opening quarter of the second half.
They put in a storming final quarter outscoring Limerick nine points to one. Limerick having turned a four point half time deficit into a one point lead by the break.
The five substitutes brought on contributed handsomely to the middle third area where Cork had been struggling badly for long parts of the game.
There are certainly some bright young classy forwards emerging. Hugh O’Connor from Newmarket being the latest kicking 1-7 in the Munster final.
If this guy comes through along with the likes of Conor Corbett and David Buckley combined with existing talent like Cathal O’Mahony then Cork’s attacking options look potent for the future.
It's pretty easy to coach a team how to be defensive but without natural scoring forwards you will rarely if ever figure at the business end of a championship.
Heart, character and a strong bench also proved to be the winning formula for the Cork senior hurlers against Kilkenny and helped secure their progression to the All-Ireland final against the Goliath that is Limerick.
With the game in the bag, five points up with five minutes to go in normal time, Cork contrived to be architects of their own demise. Patrick Horgan missed a free to put them four up and then Tim O’Mahony mis-controlled the ball exiting from defence which lead to Kilkenny’s equalising goal.
How often have we seen the team that equalises in normal time come out and dominate extra time because they are carrying momentum. It was a great sign of this Cork team and management to re-focus and re-double their efforts for extra time and emerge with a heart warming victory. It’s all to play for in the final but I think it’s important that Cork don’t get caught up in all the talk about Limerick and focus on their own game and their own strengths.
With the postponement of Kerry and Tyrone due to a covid outbreak in the Tyrone camp, Mayo and Dublin took centre stage last weekend. Again, what a display of belief, resilience and character Mayo produced.
We all expected the Dublin procession of possession in the second half when they went in at half time ten points to four up. All the old Mayo failings seemed to be there, costly turnovers and poor wides at vital times. However they had not conceded a goal and had a history of coming from behind against this Dublin team and pushing them to the limit.
If you keep kicking and lashing at the door eventually it will crumble. Mayo deserved to be the team that finally put a stop to Dublin’s run. They have been the second best team in the country for the bones of ten years. Colm O’ Rourke said at half time that "the game is over and I think we can go home".
So what changed at half time?
Croke Park is no place to be if you have no pace. Mayo introduced more pace off the bench particularly Enda Hession along with O’Hora, Ruane, Keegan, Durcan, McLoughlin and started running hard at Dublin.
The work rate and aggression reached a new level as they pushed up hard on Dublin man to man. Dublin began to do things that were very uncharacteristic of them for example, Davy Byrne dropping the ball between his legs out over the side line, Johnny Cooper being turned over, the Scully miskick and Evan Comerford’s over carry. The body will keep going but the mind gets tired.
The seven minutes of extra time in normal time was thrilling stuff. Gamesmanship from Philly McMahon resulting in Hennelly getting to re take the ’45 and nailing it to equalise. The stuff of legend.
James Horan deserves great credit for this victory.
It was a huge call to whip off Aidan O’Shea and replace other backs with attackers resulting in relentless attacking play.
And so came an end to Dublin’s 45 game unbeaten run and Fenton’s first championship defeat. I wonder how it felt for him?
Conor Lane had a bad day at the office missing four big incidents at least. The John Small shoulder was frontal and high and was a red card. The Davy Byrne pull down on Kevin Mc Loughlin was a black. James McCarthy’s elbow to Diarmuid O’ Connor’s throat and Paddy Small’s extra time altercation were also reds for me.
Mayo’s job could have been made far easier.
The first part of my predicted Mayo v Tyrone final has come up.
The Tyrone situation is an awkward one for the GAA resulting in the game being put back another week. That should suit Mayo, an extra bit of time to let the frenzy of a huge semi-final win die down. The expectation now is Kerry but what kind of shape will Tyrone turn up in when the time comes.
I’m sticking with a Mayo/Tyrone final.