Friday 23 March 2018

John Mullane: I was wrong about Cork – you write them off at your peril

Wounded Rebels got scent of blood and lashed out with swashbuckling display

Christopher Joyce of Cork soars hightest to field dropping ball ahead of Clare’s Colm Galvin during the Munster SHC semi-final showdown in Limerick
Christopher Joyce of Cork soars hightest to field dropping ball ahead of Clare’s Colm Galvin during the Munster SHC semi-final showdown in Limerick

TO all Cork hurling fans – I owe you a massive apology. And so here it is. I've learned a huge lesson. You write off Cork at your peril. Yesterday, they were highly motivated and fuelled by the words of those who had written them off, myself included.

They also tapped into the lingering obsession that people like myself had with players who were injured or omitted from the panel.

This was a classic tale of Cork arriving fully fresh and relying on that unique belief in their ability and hurling. Here we had unheralded players like Seamus Harnedy stepping up to the plate and showing what they're made of.

That was a man-of-the-match performance from Harnedy and what an achievement for a player from a junior club, St Ita's.

Cork's work-rate and superior skill levels won the day for them. And listening to Davy Fitzgerald afterwards, it struck me just how difficult it is for a manager to prepare a team when expectation and favouritism become part of the build-up. I've no doubt that Davy did everything in his power to shield his team from that, but subconsciously that stuff can creep in and a wounded Rebel only needs a scent of blood.

And now, we have two teams who will be playing in Division 1B next year getting ready to contest a Munster final.

Clare's missed goal opportunities cost them big time and maybe they would have been better off taking points and keeping the scoreboard ticking over.


I could not see that Cork win coming but you could see that they had upped their fitness levels significantly from the league.

They were more intense and stronger in the tackle than Clare. This was a vast improvement on their showing in the league relegation play-off and I felt that Clare's hurling was very poor, while the basic skills let them down very badly at times.

Statistically, Clare won the vast majority of puckouts in the league game in April but Cork turned it around yesterday. And when John Conlon went off, Clare had no ball winners.

Tactically, Cork got everything right as Brian Murphy did a man-marking job on Tony Kelly, who was non-existent.

Going forward, opposition teams will now feel that if Kelly is man-marked, you'll go a long way down the road to beating Clare.

This is the mistake that Waterford made in the Munster quarter-final because if Kelly touched the ball three or four times yesterday, that was the height of it.

Cork targeted that Clare full-back line too, as Waterford did. Cork put Pat Horgan in on David McInerney and made hay.

And I have to say that Clare are going nowhere with this short game they insist on playing. It broke down so many times and Cork punished them with scores. Davy will find it hard to pick his players up now.

One thing they had going for them in the league was that they were fitter than any other team, but as the summer goes on, they'll be overtaken and surpassed in this area, as Cork showed. Clare looked flat and tired at times and in the second half, they operated with Darach Honan as their only player inside.

All of their players were out the field when scores were badly needed. This was madness from Davy, who suffered defeat as a manager against Cork for the first time, but Padraic Collins deserves great credit for his five points.

Davy may be unhappy with referee Barry Kelly but I thought Barry had a decent game. Any frees he blew for were frees in my view and he's still the best referee in Ireland in my eyes.

Davy needs to place more emphasis on shooting and basic skills rather than trying to perfect this short game because when it breaks down, it leads to trouble for Clare. Looking ahead, the Munster final promises to be a cracker. The last time these Limerick and Cork in a Munster final was in 1992 – I happened to be at that game.

Perhaps it's an omen because the minor final on that day was between Tipperary and Waterford and that could come to pass again on July 14.

We could be in for an identical double-header to 21 years ago and I'm sure that in the build-up to the senior game we'll be hearing stories about Tomas Mulcahy's goal for Cork that shouldn't have been. I can still remember that to this day.

A final word on Anthony Nash, the Cork goalkeeper. He was superb and showed the form that earned him an All Star last year.

Harnedy and Brian Murphy were terrific out the field for Cork but Nash is the last line of defence and he's a superb asset. His shot-stopping was excellent and he crowned a fine display with long-range free-taking.

Deise deserve credit – but ref raises hackles

I don't want to see James McGrath refereeing another Waterford match.

When the talk leaving Tullamore on Saturday evening should have been about Waterford's display, we were spitting fire at McGrath. Personally, I've never effed and blinded so much at a game.

Seamus Prendergast was pulled down and no penalty was given, but the episode that infuriated me the most was when McGrath refused to stop play for an injury to Jamie Nagle on the sideline.

That was despite the fact that play was held up for five minutes when Offaly's Derek Molloy was injured. Jamie goes down and McGrath tells Offaly goalkeeper James Dempsey to puck out the ball – and they get a score from it.

I've mentioned McGrath already this summer, after the Munster quarter-final when I felt he let Clare back into the game by handing them a succession of handy frees in the second half.

The game itself was in the 'must-win' category for Waterford. Defeat was not an option and great credit is due to management and players for responding to a pressurised situation. The three players introduced – Brian O'Sullivan, Shane Fives and Stephen O'Keeffe – were very good. And O'Keeffe pulled off a save right in front of me from Dan Currams that should be up on YouTube soon, if it's not already. But the performance of the night came from Maurice Shanahan (above). We've been aware of his talent for a long time, but he became a leader on Saturday.

Leinster should be seen, not heard

THE Leinster hurling championship has been shown serious disrespect by the TV power-brokers.

We have two championships before the All-Ireland series – the Leinster and Munster championships – and yet neither Leinster semi-final was deemed worthy of live TV coverage. Rewind the clock back 12 months and Kilkenny-Dublin was built up as a massive game.

Okay, it was on at the same time as Cork-Clare but why wasn't the game fixed for Saturday, to accommodate live TV? I was one of thousands forced to go on information picked up from the radio and, from what I can gather, the quality of hurling wasn't great.

I believe Dublin dropped back an extra man and that worked a treat.

Joey Boland had a massive game for the Dubs but when Walter Walsh scored the goal to put Kilkenny 1-8 to 0-10 ahead, I feared for Daly's men.

And yet back they came to within seconds of a famous result. Will they rue that missed opportunity? Time will tell, but I always felt that Dublin would give a good performance as they're finding their best 15 as they go along.

The problem now is that win or lose, they'll have a fourth championship game in as many weeks on the following Sunday, in a Leinster final or All-Ireland qualifier.

A word too on Wexford and their positive result against Antrim. A good way to bounce back from the negativity of the previous weekend.

Irish Independent

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