'Our attitiude and work-rate needed to be improved... we let ourselves down badly' - Cork boss John Meyler
Cork manager hails 'artist' Horgan as Rebels roar into life with Déise next on list
What changed in a week for the Cork hurlers? Manager John Meyler will tell you it was everything and nothing.
Their attitude and application was better and there were a few switches in terms of personnel. But the Cork team that flopped at home to Tipperary and soared against the All-Ireland champions Limerick in their own back yard were playing the same game and following the same plan. They just carried it out better.
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Their performance against Limerick couldn't be listed as a surprise. The teams met twice in championship last season and drew twice (once in Munster and once in normal time in the All-Ireland semi-final) and the Rebels won when the met in the league this year. For Meyler, the biggest problem they had in the defeat to Tipp was internal.
"Look, we all needed to look within ourselves and to see what could we have done," Meyler reflected, as Centra celebrated their tenth season sponsoring the hurling championship.
"Our attitude needed to change but above all our work rate and performance needed to be improved and I think everyone saw that. We let ourselves down badly."
Individually and collectively, things improved for Cork. Mark Ellis has battled injury for the best part of two years but put down a solid 70 minutes. Aidan Walsh brought an "unselfishness" to the team. Bill Cooper's spade work helped too. Eoin Cadogan kept arguably the country's most in-form player in Aaron Gillane to just a point from play. Meyler could feel the reaction coming from his side.
"I was 100pc confident (they'd bounce back) because you know you could see that within the week, the way we addressed that after the Tipperary match and we looked at that.
"Everybody focused on it and everybody needed to pick up their performance."
Last year, Cork came in for some stinging criticism from former great Diarmuid 'The Rock' O'Sullivan in their defeat to Limerick in the semi-final. The Cloyne man insisted Cork got nothing from their bench in that game but on Sunday, it was different. Alan Cadogan and Declan Dalton were sprung to hit 0-5 between them, while Stephen McDonnell, Christopher Joyce and Shane Kingston all made an impact.
And Meyler admitted squad depth is something they have tried to develop.
"We looked at that over the winter. We were criticised in our league campaign for losing matches because we were leaving players on the pitch.
Aidan Walsh played five or six league games, Stephen McDonnell played league games and you are trying to be competitive, win matches and blood players. (Robert) Downey played two matches. Ger Millerick played games and if the games are so competitive how do you blood a 19- or 20-year-old?
"But we took the opportunity with Downey to play him against Limerick in the league, he played against Kilkenny. So did Ger Millerick.
"And that's the opportunity to play and that facilitates you building a stronger bench and panel. Some people want you to win every game but hurling is about championship really at the end of the day and you are measured on your championship success ultimately."
Whatever Cork do this summer, Pat Horgan will have to be central to it. Last weekend he hit 1-9 as the county's record scorer underlined his status as one of the best in the game.
"I think he's just an artist. Skilful, what he does with a ball. I've never worked with TJ Reid or Joe Canning but you look at those, they make it look so simple that you say, 'That's easy' but go do it. He scored a point there against Tipperary from a phone box. The way he took the ball down for the goal last Sunday against Limerick, lost two players, just turned, in, goal. Looks easy, looks simple. It's so easy and looks so simple, why?
"Because he's such an artist. You look at Messi, you look at his ability. Sure anybody can go past one or two players, that's not a problem but to do it at the speed that he does with the control that he does, superb."
One part of Meyler would love to be out again this weekend to capitalise on the momentum the win over Limerick has given them. Another part knows the likes of Conor Lehane, who picked up a calf strain, will benefit from the time off. Either way, they have to be the team they were against Limerick and not the one that turned up against Tipp. And former All Black Doug Howlett, in his role as 'high performance lead', will have a big part to play in that.
"I think he will have a bigger role next week as distinct form last week to maintain that level of performance against Limerick and that you are setting the bar and you really want to drive on from that and build on that.
"You can't have a see-saw reaction you have to maintain that level of performance. If you look at Dublin over the last four or five years they have epitomised that, Kilkenny and Cody too over the last 20 years possibly you could say no matter how bad they are they still perform at a high level and when they are good they are really, really good. We cannot let the bar drop now. That's critical."