Monday 17 June 2019

A season and team to be proud of

Obvious failings do need addressing, but the Rebels and their manager can be proud of a season of progress

Cork manager John Meyler during the All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Cork and Limerick at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Cork manager John Meyler during the All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Cork and Limerick at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Diarmuid Sheehan

The analysis for this game one could easily get caught up in the statistics of who did what, how many times they did it and what the result was - and as one would expect all that would be fair game however on this day those facts and figures really are irrelevant.

Cork and Limerick's game last weekend transcended any requirement for the use of facts and figures.

Croke Park on a Sunday afternoon in July isn't meant to be this exciting but thanks to Cork, Limerick and Pope Francis' visit to Ireland the date for this one moved from August to July and unless you are a bitter and disgruntled Cork fan right now who could complain.

A game that delivered on so many levels failed to deliver for the men in red where it mattered most. Cork started well, hung in during the bad times and looked good during the good times and really should, despite what many Limerick fans would have you believe on the train journey home, have taken this one inside 70 minutes.

Cork were in control as the game headed for the last five minutes, six points to the good and looking comfortable. Then it all changed and boy did it change for the worse. Seven points on the bounce from the Treaty men and Cork were rocked. Slower to everything, failing to deliver up front with no sense that they were in a position to stop the wrought.

Limerick had their gander up and they smelt blood in the water. Of course the history books will show Patrick Horgan, not for the first time threw Cork a lifeline. His injury time free was a thing of immense beauty and courage - something that the Glen Rovers' man hurling has being saying for many years now.

Horgan's free meant that the second semi in as many days would go to extra time and this season's hurling championship would continue to offer up drama at an ever increasing rate.

The sides again went to the tunnel and again the management teams tried to get their charges to rise for what was for some going to be the most important 20 minutes of their lives.

As the sides returned not even the most optimistic of fans would have been brave enough to call it but to those of us with an eye on the stats things were looking bad for the Rebels.

No point from play since the 62nd minute continued all the way to the 16th minute of extra time and by that stage the game was gone.

Cork flagged after the hour mark and just couldn't keep things going.

The side that lit up the championship of 2018 had finally run out of steam and unfortunately for John Meyler and his band of merry men it happened at the same place and venue as the year previous.

Many fingers will be pointed over the coming weeks with a host of suggestions and comments likely to miss the mark by miles, but some will hit the nail on the head. The facts state that Cork lost, Limerick won and another year of hurt will continue Leeside.

The facts also show that Cork's bench was wholly inadequate compared to a firing and impressive Limerick backup. For years we have been bombarded with managers and players claiming that the game takes a panel of 21,22,23,and even 30 players to play competitively and, while many have been sceptical, Cork's failings showed it may well now be true.

Cork are not far off the mark so it would be ridiculous to suggest anything like wholesale changes, but it would be remiss to ignore the elephants that are wrecking the room right now.

The defensive pack struggled on Sunday, but that is hardly the first time this year that they faced an opposition that showed them a clean pair of heels.

In previous games the scoring power of the forwards got the side out of jail, but against a free scoring Limerick side full of confidence they just couldn't hold firm.Cork's bench was what it was and, while Meyler would probably have liked to strengthen it over the previous months, he had what he had and on this day in front of just over 71,000 hurling fans they didn't have enough.

Injuries did mean that Cork didn't get the chance to bring on all their players when they wanted to, but that is team sport, that is hurling and you have to adapt to circumstance but Cork's subs found themselves under so much pressure right from their introductions that scoring really wasn't an option.

In the middle it is hard to knock the influence of Darragh Fitzgibbon, but Bill Cooper has had better days, while up front there was an absence of a scoring threat from Luke Meade.

Cork are a powerhouse in hurling circles right now and up to this point were probably one of the best two in the land. A defeat to Limerick is hardly a cause for panic but that said yet another loss in an All-Ireland semi-final is something that can't be ignored.

John Meyler has done really well with Cork this year and, despite just leading his side to the same point as Kieran Kingston the previous year, his side's Munster Final triumph has to be regarded as a huge progression.

Comparisons between the two bainisteoirs can now firmly be put to bed and the manager should now be allowed to make the changes required to strengthen the squad. Players will need to move on and some of those are a long way short of retirement age. The defence will need a radical shake-up with strength in depth also top of the list.

Cork are almost at the level required to win an All-Ireland and if Nicky Quaid hadn't brilliantly robbed Seamus Harnedy in the dying minutes they would be well on their way to that goal so let's all take a minute, remember the good times and leave the recriminations till the dark wet evenings of winter.