Friday 13 December 2019

John Mullane: Rebels' day in sun could inspire whole generation

Limerick’s Donal O'Grady attempts to get past the challenge of Cork’s Lorcan McLoughlin
Limerick’s Donal O'Grady attempts to get past the challenge of Cork’s Lorcan McLoughlin
Tipperary’s Denis Maher and Emmett Nolan of Offaly battle for possession

John Mullane

I have an eight-year-old nephew, Conor, living in Cork city. He'd never seen Cork winning a Munster senior hurling final until yesterday. But this win could spawn a whole new generation of supporters.

From my seat high in the gantry of the covered stand at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, it was evident just how much this meant to Cork – and how much Jimmy Barry-Murphy is after doing for this team. This is his team – with nine changes from the side that played Galway in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final.

He's revolutionised the group and galvanised the Cork hurling public behind him. And he's brought a unity to Cork again following that period of unrest a few years back. The supporters believe now, too, that Cork are good enough to push on for an All-Ireland title.

IMPROVED

Kilkenny are still my favourites but Cork have improved and will go close.

It was the fastest I'd ever run out of Pairc Ui Chaoimh last evening. Cork and Limerick fans streaming out of the ground may have worn puzzled expressions as they watched me flash by them. I needed a quick getaway, to make it home in time for the World Cup final.

I left the venue with a host of memories and whereas this time last year I was gazing down on a sea of green at the Gaelic Grounds, this time it was blood red. It wasn't a classic by any means and whoever scored the first goal was always going to win the game. As it turned out, Cork got two.

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I read Shane Dowling in an article during the week and the Limerick man talked about how a lot of his team-mates had never played at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. And make no mistake, on a day when the old bowl played host to its last major match, home advantage was a crucial factor.

Limerick may have dominated the first 20 minutes – but they couldn't reflect that on the scoreboard.

I felt that moving Seamus Hickey out of the full back line was a poor move on Limerick's part. It unsettled the entire inside line and while Conor Lehane was having the game of his life, moving Hickey out to pick him up wasn't the answer. Hickey was nullifying Patrick Horgan but when he went out of there, gaps opened up.

Big games are decided by big moments and there were a few of them. Dowling missed a couple of early placed balls and he also missed a goal chance in the second half, as did David Breen. If Limerick raised a green flag, it could have been a totally different game.

Credit to Seamus Harnedy for his perseverance for Cork's first goal but he, along with Bill Cooper, was completely stifled in the first half. Harnedy was off target with a few chances before his goal but his strength of character is admirable.

I've been there, having endured a difficult first half before snatching at a couple of chances early in the second. You could go to pieces but Harnedy's head didn't drop and he gained his reward. But where was the Limerick full-back line to stop him?

Once Harnedy broke through three tackles in the half-back line, he had a clear run on goal. Not good enough from Limerick. Incidentally, Harnedy was my pre-match tip for the game's first goalscorer.

There were other key moments – Shane O'Neill's intervention on Dowling in the 24th minute, to prevent a goal. But I'd worry about O'Neill at full-back for Cork, who went man for man again, as they did against Clare.

With Christopher Joyce following Kevin Downes and Damien Cahalane tracking Breen, O'Neill ended up at full-back on Dowling, who took him for a few scores. Dowling troubled O'Neill and the full-back position is under review again for Cork.

I still expect Limerick to regroup and perform well against Wexford or Waterford in the All-Ireland quarter-final. But they have a lot of work to do – particularly as wing-backs Paudie O'Brien and Gavin O'Mahony were both taken off.

Limerick's forward line went totally out of it and Downes hit a shocking wide in the 61st minute, with Cork going up the field soon after to score the second goal and seal the game.

Another critical moment was Paul Browne's decision not to pop over a simple point in the 56th minute. Cork turned over the ball and Bill Cooper flashed over a point at the other end for a four-point lead.

The last word to Paudie O'Sullivan. How good it was to see him back in the groove, firing over a dream score in the 39th minute from underneath the stand, before nailing the killer goal.

He missed out on Cork's big days last year but what lad to bring off the bench. It was his day in the sun. And it was Cork's.

Davy must learn to keep well clear of sideshows

CLARE fought to the death like true champions in the Wexford Park bear pit on Saturday evening. But while Davy Fitzgerald came in for huge praise last year, he'll look back on this campaign with some regret.

As a management team, Fitzgerald and his selectors played a blinder last year. This time around, he'll know that costly mistakes were made and players must share the blame too for ill-discipline. Over the course of the two games against Wexford, Clare had three players sent off and that's not good enough.

Brendan Bugler and Jack Browne could have few complaints but it was a peculiar refereeing display from Johnny Ryan. And Clare could quibble with a few of his decisions. The bigger picture, I suspect, and I have sympathy for Davy here, is that referees and officials have turned against him. And Davy will have to ask himself why.

This summer, he got involved in stuff that he shouldn't have got involved in. I don't believe that some of the sideshows helped the team but he'll learn from this. The main thing for Clare now is to pick themselves up for the U-21 game against Tipperary during the week. Winning three in a row All-Irelands in that grade would represent a phenomenal achievement, if they can pull it off.

Wexford, meanwhile, can reflect with massive pride on their efforts. And over the 180 minutes, they deserved it. I'm delighted for an experienced guy like Keith Rossiter – he deserved a big day like this.

And Harry Kehoe showed real balls to score that goal in extra-time – after missing a glorious chance to win the game at the death.

They'll play Waterford next Saturday and that should be a cracker in Nowlan Park. The fresher team will prevail, I believe. One more thing – where was Domhnall O'Donovan this year? Hero of last year's drawn All-Ireland final, forgotten man in 2014. A puzzle, particularly as Browne doesn't look up to scratch in that Clare defence.

Callanan drives free-scoring Tipp to next level

TIPP are back. 8-50 in two championship games is serious scoring and Seamus Callanan's form is central to their revival. And how good was it to see Eoin Kelly scoring a point and looking so sharp after coming off the bench on Saturday evening?

Tipp are free-scoring but problems still remain. They went ten minutes without a score in the second half and there was a spell in the first half when Offaly totally outplayed them.

What pleased me was Eamon O'Shea's persistence with Padraic Maher at full-back. I had hoped that Tipp would persevere as I know from experience in Waterford that chopping and changing in that position is not helpful.

From here, Tipp have to win three games to win the All-Ireland – starting with Dublin. And with momentum behind them, I think they'll shade it. They also have the experience of going down this road before and Patrick 'Bonner' Maher is back to his very best form.

Brian Carroll scored 0-13 for Offaly but he's fighting a losing battle there.

If the game went on another ten or 15 minutes, a 17-point lead for Tipp could have been doubled. These are dark days for the Faithful County.

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