Sunday 16 June 2019

John Meyler's half-time magic the key to Rebels revival

Cork Manager John Meyler. Photo: Sportsfile
Cork Manager John Meyler. Photo: Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

When it comes to what decides a game as big as the Munster final, it's often not the start, the middle or even the high-pressure moments approaching the finish, it's what goes on when the teams aren't even on the pitch, but sitting in the changing rooms at half-time.

Yesterday afternoon in Thurles, John Meyler re-jigged his team to perfection at the break and it's no discredit to his players to say that's the chief reason Cork ended up retaining their Munster title.

In the first-half they were simply out-hurled by Clare in several areas.

Up front, John Conlon was wreaking havoc with the Cork backs, helping himself to four points from his first four shots.

The Clare forwards were moving up on the puck-outs from Anthony Nash, doing their best to stop him going short, and meanwhile in the centre of the field they won a lot of 50-50 battles for possession.

At one stage it looked as if Clare were going to go in with an eight-point lead - and truth be told they should have - but Luke Meade's goal and the quick point afterwards brought it back to four.

When you get on top of a team like that, you need to be ruthless, and Clare just didn't drive on. They allowed Cork to go in knowing that a quick start to the second-half would have them back on terms, which it did.

We can never fully assess the change in mindset that occurs behind closed doors at the break, but what we could see in the second-half was that John Meyler's adjustments were paying dividends: Christopher Joyce went in at centre-back, Eoin Cadogan went to wing-back, Daniel Kearney dropped back to midfield, Darragh Fitzgibbon moved to centre-forward and Conor Lehane went to wing-forward.

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Every one of those moves seemed to work.

Cork began to neutralise the threat of Conlon by moving Colm Spillane back on him and shifted Damien Cahalane to corner-back.

For Clare, the supply line to the forwards was cut off in the second-half, their half-back line was under huge pressure, and in the middle third their men were losing the battles for possession. Tony Kelly just never really got going, and as the game went on Cork got more and more on top.

In the biggest games, during those pivotal moments, every team needs leaders who will stand up and for Cork yesterday that was Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan.

When these teams met in the first round of Munster six weeks ago, there were five points between them and that would have been a fair result yesterday.

As it was, Clare grabbed a late goal to put a gloss on it, but it was no more than a dying kick.

They'll be disappointed with the way they faded in the second-half, and for hitting eight wides to Cork's two, but they'll regroup. This will dent their confidence, no doubt, but they have a big following behind them and they'll still be a tough team to beat.

Cork, meanwhile, look like they're going from strength to strength. In the second-half they got some fantastic scores and made the game look easy. They're getting used to John Meyler's system and they're very much playing the Cork brand of hurling: letting the ball do the work and always going for the easy option, taking their scores from out the field.

They have that bit of pace which also counts for so much. Luke Meade, Shane Kingston, Conor Lehane and Darragh Fitzgibbon all have natural speed and it helps them become a huge threat on the attack.

This game was a big contrast to what we saw in Croke Park, where Galway and Kilkenny didn't have any room to breathe.

There was no space given and lads were shutting each other down, but in Thurles, Clare and Cork had more space.

If the Cork forwards get room to dance, they'll dance, and when they had that space they created all sort of problems for Clare.

Mark Coleman is also playing out of his skin at wing-back, and when they need inspirational ball and points, he has that X factor to deliver on command.

Things look rosy for them right now and they'll relish the four-week break, when they can heal up the little injuries and size up their opposition as they beat each other.

They were unlucky in last year's All-Ireland campaign with the red card against Waterford that might have cost them a spot in the final, but they'll fancy their chances now of going all the way.

They shouldn't be afraid of anyone.

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