Saturday 26 May 2018

John Mullane: Cork's misfiring stars needed a sharp dose of Canon O'Brien reality

Tipperary’s John McGrath tries to escape the clutches of Cork defender Mark Ellis in Thurles yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Tipperary’s John McGrath tries to escape the clutches of Cork defender Mark Ellis in Thurles yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

John Mullane

I was in Cork last week at a championship preview event with Tomás Mulcahy, Liam Sheedy and Anthony Daly.

Tomás told a great story about the late Canon Michael O'Brien from 1990, when they won the All-Ireland.

At half-time in the final against Galway, Canon O'Brien called four Cork players into the showers at half-time, Tomás being one of them.

He made them take their jerseys off and then proceeded to pour a bucket of water over the four lads, his protest against how they had performed in the first half.

The rest is history and Cork went out and beat Galway in the second half. If Canon O'Brien was still alive and involved with this current Cork team, he'd have called 13 of the 15 starting players into the showers in Thurles at half-time yesterday.

Bar Anthony Nash, who had nothing to do, and Alan Cadogan, Cork were absolutely abysmal.

All the talk coming out of the county during the week was that they were going to come with a new approach, evident against Clare in a recent challenge match where they played a harder brand of hurling.

But those early shemozzles were not the right way to lay down a marker. In fact, it was pathetic watching them unfold in front of my eyes.

I was on co-commentary for RTÉ Radio and there was very little to report on. The game itself was a snooze-fest but take nothing away from Tipperary, who deserve great credit, but I have to ask the question: why did Cork go with the sweeper system again?

It quite clearly failed against Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final last year and malfunctioned again.

The vast majority of teams that Tipp come up against set up with a sweeper so it's a system they know how to play against.

It wasn't until maybe 45 minutes into the game when the instruction came for Cork to push up man-on-man and they actually began to dominate for a spell. This is where the concern lies for Tipperary, who went 17 minutes without a score.

We've seen this all too often before with Tipp, even in games where they're dominant. That won't be good enough going forward in the championship.

System

After the League campaign, Cork boss Kieran Kingston opted to cull a number of his players from his panel. Former captain Patrick Cronin was one of them but he can feel really hard done by. He was the type of player that Cork needed yesterday, a go-to man on the edge of the square who can provide an outlet when you're playing the sweeper system.

Cork management were harsh on Cronin and the county's supporters have been over-critical of him too.

Are we surprised with yesterday's result? Perhaps we shouldn't be because I was in Thurles when the sides met in the final round of League fixtures and this one panned out pretty much the same.

During the week, Tipperary captain Brendan Maher commented that Tipp remain a traditional county who believe in simplistic hurling.

It's not in their DNA to go with an extra defender but it was a reaction to Cork's set-up more than anything else.

Ronan Maher became the free man and he was very good along with brother Pádraic in a dominant half-back line.

Although Seamus Callanan and 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer will grab the headlines for their scoring, my man-of-the-match was Cathal Barrett.

Once again, he proved why he's the best corner back in the country and he didn't give Patrick Horgan a sniff.

Michael Ryan's team selection was a brave one, with four championship debutants included, and they all did well.

Dan McCormack caught my eye and the more I see of John McGrath, the more impressed I am. He was outstanding throughout the League and his emergence is a massive plus for Tipp. Ok, he only scored a point but he won frees and his link-up play is just unbelievable.

And yet Cork could have made a game of it down the home straight if Horgan had taken the sensible option in the 52nd minute.

Vulnerable

Cork were seven points behind and should have cut the gap to six but Horgan went for goal from a 20m free.

It was a period of the game when Cork were on top and if they got Tipp down the home straight, we've seen in the past how vulnerable they can be in that situation.

It was a big moment but Tipp pushed for home and another player who really impressed me was captain Brendan Maher, who was exceptional at midfield.

But Cork did themselves no favours trying to work the ball out of defence and when their hand-passing game broke down, it was uncomfortable to watch.

Cork's fans must have been tearing their hair out and what a loyal bunch they are. Almost 30,000 supporters were in Thurles yesterday and there was a big Cork following.

You've got to hand it to them - they keep coming out to follow their players even though they're consistently being given below-par performances to chew on.

Elsewhere, these are really worrying times for Wexford. When you don't have your best players on the field, you're going to struggle and a county like Wexford can ill-afford to be without the likes of Lee Chin and Jack Guiney.

They'll struggle to pick themselves up and Liam Dunne's in a hard place at the moment. Dublin will give Kilkenny enough of it in the Leinster semi-final and Offaly could be in the last four too after getting past Kerry yesterday. They'll fancy their chances now against Laois and great credit's due to manager Eamonn Kelly for turning it around after a difficult start to the campaign.

Irish Independent

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