Saturday 20 January 2018

Rebels roused to reach new heights

Christopher Joyce is lifted shoulder-high by Cork supporters after yesterday's Munster SHC semi-final at Semple Stadium Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Christopher Joyce is lifted shoulder-high by Cork supporters after yesterday's Munster SHC semi-final at Semple Stadium Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

With Cork it never feels entirely like an uprising, more the reassertion of a natural law.

When they rise, there's a regal air to how they do it. Self-regard comes rolling off their bodies and there's a thoroughbred's shine in the eyes. Delve behind the veil of humdrum courtesies and, always, you'll locate that sing-song air of men who knew that this day was coming.

Stephen McDonnell sat in a dressing-room, now lent the cool quiet of a church under the Kinane Stand, offering us a glimpse of the inner Cork child. Somebody had asked about high-performance expert Gary Keegan's role in how this hurling team, suddenly, looks so profoundly different.

"The last few years were tough, we were kind of struggling to get our identity, to get our team together, united," he told us.

"But this time it just kind of naturally happened. And I suppose you can't really force togetherness or unity, it has to happen naturally."

And Keegan?

He took them for "a couple of sessions around the culture of it" explained McDonnell.

"Talked around, I suppose, just self-awareness and knowledge. When you get that it's easier to become closer to the people around you. He's been very good. But again I think really it's about the people that are going out playing.

Wonder

"The management aren't there on the field with us, the stats man isn't there, the strength and conditioning coaches... It's the 15 lads and the guys who come on. They are the ones who have to go out and do it."

The wonder about this game was just how utterly Cork devoured Waterford. Everything about them looked keyed to a higher intensity.

True, Waterford did have a couple of legitimate late penalty appeals that might have written a different story, but, if it had, the tilt of it would have been illusory.

Because this was conclusive. "The disappointing thing is that everything we planned to do, we didn't do," sighed Derek McGrath.

He knew this wasn't a day defined by small moments.

Cork's meeting with Tipperary hadn't been so much a game as a rodeo: an exchange of wild, ungovernable energy left largely uncomplicated by the restraining arm of tactic.

This long, sun-swept day could never offer a reprise because Waterford would have been foolish to allow it. They needed terms and conditions of a more structured syntax because simply going hip-to-hip in scoreboard-melting fun would have been the equivalent of self-harm.

This Cork team is brazen and hot-heeled and, if you are structurally permissive against it (as Tipp were), you are condemning yourself to a beautiful wake.

McGrath knew that, above anything here, Waterford needed to take a flashlight inside Cork's rib cage. Waterford did not deploy a sweeper, going instead with disciplined lines, expanding and contracting as circumstance demanded, forever communicating the spacial parsimony of prison guards.

Gorgeous games are all well and good, but this was always going to be a summer for them to tune out of any romanticism. McGrath especially. He is a serious man at the helm of a serious team for whom garlands can hold no consolation now. Having held his men in reserve for 11 weeks (after, essentially, conceding the league) he would have expected more from them here.

But they could not meet Cork's energy on equal ground and it remains to be seen if anybody will. People talk abstractedly about that strange condition known as 'Corkness', but it's pretty much what we saw in this Thurles sauna.

They should have been out of sight by the mid-point, yet three Killinan End goal chances went abegging; two to miraculous saves from Stephen O'Keeffe, the third to a wayward piledriver from Pat Horgan, the Glen Rovers man having escaped Noel Connors' sticky attention for roughly the first time in a decade.

Some of the things they did thieved the breath away.

It's doubtful we'll see a better point this summer than that scored by Conor Lehane in the 15th minute. He pulled Mark Coleman's spooned clearance from the sky just as Shane Fives came chuntering at him like a runaway locomotive, before - from the toes of the Kinane Stand - landing a monster from maybe 80 yards.

That was Cork yesterday, an endless ricochet of timber and bone against opponents who seemed to have a plan, just not the legs to communicate it.

Maurice Shanahan's 46th-minute goal ought to have lifted Waterford's levels, but Cork's response - Seamus Harnedy fielding the puck-out only to be hauled down by Barry Coughlan - was that of a team unwilling to countenance surrender. They got six of the next eight scores. It was domination.

Young Coleman had an extraordinary game while Harnedy and Conor Lehane were stand-out leaders in attack. Some weeks back, they played Clare in a challenge and didn't enjoy the experience.

"They kind of ran through us," said Anthony Nash. That, though, was before this crimson revolution. Before Cork began remembering themselves.

And Waterford?

Their troubles seemed crystallised the moment last year's double Hurler of the Year, Austin Gleeson, was substituted just over an hour into a game when so many in white looked ponderous. Now they face next Monday's All-Ireland qualifier draw and a treacherously mined path.

"Eleven weeks off... I'd love to cling to that, but I'd be more pragmatic," confessed McGrath with trademark candour.

"I thought we were chasing it straight down the line. We created chances, but they were bitty chances. To be this flat on the back of our preparation, to under-perform in so many key areas...that's sport. I can't explain it, only to say it's not what we meant to do."

Irish Independent

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