Cork vs Tipperary – Munster Championship Hurling

Tipperary 3-22 Cork 0-23 – Munster Senior Hurling

Another championship defeat for the Cork Hurlers and Denis Walsh, but at least a little pride and hope was restored after last year’s destruction at the hands of Kilkenny. Whether or not we saw enough to suggest 2011 will be a productive year for this team is hard to say, particularly after last year but nonetheless Sunday producing the blooding of a number of youngsters and with the second half comeback, the illustration that a little spirit still pulses through the veins of Cork Hurling.

Regarding the match itself, it was entertaining fair and suprisingly fast and skillful considering so many teams gear to peak so much later on in the year. Rather suprisingly Cork dominated possession overall but missed two goal chances in the opening ten minutes, another goal chance at the start of the second half and a plethora of point chances, Gardiner driving at least three long distance frees wide while a number of players were guilty of dropping the ball into the hand of Cummins. In contrast, Tipp were highly clinical, finishing their three clear cut goal chances and effortlessly stroking over points throughout. In general both defensive units had mediocre days with both attacks on top, and despite a suprisingly impressive performance by our inside forwards the effortless finishing of Corbett, Kelly and Callinan was a world apart from what we had to offer. Very simply, Tipp did more with less and won because of it.

On the day, there were numerous impressive individual performances for Cork. Donal Og’s puckouts were, bar one, accurate, doing a good job of keeping the ball away from Paraic Maher and were a main reason we won so much primary ball. Eoin Cadogan, bar the (big) mistake for the third goal was dominant while McDonell and Egan, considering their inexperience and youth played well, if far from faultless. Our midfield was impressive and managed to get the better of McGrath and Ryan, Cronin winning loads of aerial ball and McLoughlin a pretty effective support player beside him. Up front, our forwards thrived on fast, direct ball, winning the kind of  tough 50/50 ball that usually we lose. Both Luke O’Farrell and Paudi O’Sullivan, even though neither scored much from play, won good ball and won numerous frees throughout, while Patrick Horgan, after Cronin, was undeniably Cork’s best player, excellent from frees and lively from play. Elsewhere, Niall McCarthy destroyed Young and Ben O’Connor, despite not being particularly quick anymore, took up lots of clever positions and picked up some nice breaking ball and a few points.

Some criticism however – Gardiner, bar one long distance point, possibly had his worst game in Cork jersey ever and this, along with Brian Murphy, who lacks the necessary hurling and aggression for a half back, ensured our half-back line had an off day. Shane O’Neill was blatantly lacking in match fitness and shouldn’t have been started, while Cian McCarthy struggled badly to deal with the physicality and aerial prowess of Maher. Secondly, management must be criticised for many of its decisions. Starting Brian Murphy half-back; starting Shane O’Neill at all; still having Gardiner on long distance frees; bringing Naughton on with two minutes to go; bringing Kieran Murphy on; taking Lorcan McLoughlin off. And while one must congratulate management for finally getting Cork playing a direct style of hurling, they managed to undermine this style in the final 15 minutes by putting both the O’Connors side by side in the half-forward line. And similarly, one must applaud management for putting their faith in youth…unfortunately a year late.

Regarding Tipp, they put in another performance that justified their tags for favourites for the All-Ireland. Cummins pulled off some brilliant saves and was a large reason for Tipp’s victory, while even if the Tipp defence wasn’t at its best Paraic Maher was excellent in the first half and Conor O’Mahony, when he came on, considerably steadied the ship. In midfield, McGrath did well and was a big loss when he went off injured, Cronin immediately coming into the game more, while Gearoid Ryan played his part as a workhorse well, putting in a good shift throughout. Up front, Kelly, Corbett and Callinan all played brilliantly and tormented the Cork defence throughout – all three individual performances are likely to terrify inter-county defenders throughout the country. Finally, Brendan Maher worked hard both in the air and on the ground, whilst also offering some scores from play. All in all its hard to say Tipp were going full blast, the intensity and in particular the physicality shown in last year’s All-Ireland final well short last Sunday, even if their touch was excellent.

The one over-riding feeling upon leaving Semple stadium on Sunday then was of doubt. Where exactly does Cork Hurling stand now? From one point of view, a more clinical Cork could have beaten the All-Ireland champions at home, if we hadn’t spurned at least two good goal chances and missed so many scoring chances in the second half and particularly considering the amount of possession we had. From another, Tipp had a number of injuries that effected their defensive performance considerably, were maybe playing at 70-80% and still won by eight points. Furthermore, because of the false hope of last year’s victory over Tipp its clear we need to see back to back performances against quality opposition before we can declare that Cork Hurling is beginning to move forward again.

Cork 2-16 Tipperary 2-12 – Munster Intermediate Hurling

Depite a rules change increasing the quality of Tipperary’s pick, Cork largely strolled to victory in this Munster Intermediate Hurling first round. Cork dominated most of the game against a Tipperary side able to pick from senior clubs, a suggestion of just how strong this Cork team is. More notably, there is at least 9 U-21 panelists on the intermediate squad, making the team considerably younger then last year’s side. For Cork, Darren McCarthy was solid as always in goals, while Cashman was consistent at full-back even if neither of his corner backs had particularly good games. The half-back line  of Corry/Ellis/Healy was as good as one expects and in particular Seamus Corry stood out, giving a typically energetic display.In midfield, the powerful Micheal Sexton impressed while further up the field the likes of Micheal O’Sullivan and Colm Casey also had big impacts on the game. Possibly Cork’s standout player however was David Drake at half-forward, his touch typically flawless and his all round skills far superior to anyone else on the pitch. This is then a Cork team to watch, not just because they are actually likely to win something but more importantly because it contains some of the best youngsters in Cork hurling currently.

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