Cork 2-17 Offaly 2-16 – All-Ireland Hurling Qualifiers

Cork: D. Og Cusack; S. McDonnell; E. Cadogan; B. Murphy; J. Gardiner; W. Egan (R. Curran); S. O’Neill (0-1); J. O’Connor (0-2); P. Cronin; B. O’Connor (0-2); C. McCarthy (1-0, B. Cooper); N. McCarthy (T. Kenny 0-1); L. O’Farrell (1-0, C. Naughton); P. O’Sullivan (0-1); P. Horgan (0-10, 0-6f).

Offaly: J. Dempsey; S. Egan (B. Mulrooney); D. Kenny; C. McDonald; D. Hayden; R. Hannify; D. Morkan; D. Currams (0-3); C. Egan (1-2); J. Mulrooney (C. Parlon); J. Bergin (0-1); C. Mahon (0-1); S. Dooley (1-9; 1-7f); G. Healion; B. Carroll (B. Murphy (J. Brady)).

After an easy win against Laois in the opening qualifier, Cork’s momentum was lessened considerably after a disapointing and error ridden display against Offaly. From one point of view, this was a decent win against a team that pushed Dublin all the way earlier in the year, particularly when one notes Cork were a man down for 50 minutes. At the same time, many individual performances were worryingly poor throughout, as were the many wides we hit in the dying minutes of the match and the sheer amount of goal chances Offaly created throughout.

For Cork, impressive individual performances were few. Donal Og had one of his more patchy games in goal, on one hand making some excellent saves but it was noticeable his puck-outs became more errant when Cronin was sent off while Dooley’s goal at the very end should never have been. Both corner backs had very solid games and neither could be faulted – Cadogan however had an inconsistent performance, struggling with Healion’s aerial strength in the first half although he did perform better on Dooley in the second half. The many goal chances created though came largely from a pretty inept performance in the half-back line. Shane O’Neill was the best of the bunch, although he clearly lacks match fitness still; William Egan was builled in the air throughout while John Gardiner’s form is a huge worry, his impact on the game non-existent.

Unsuprisingly, thanks to the needless sending of Pa Cronin, we struggled a bit in midfield. To be fair Jerry O’Connor and Niall McCarthy did well enough as a make shift partnership, winning and playing a decent bit of ball but the Offaly duo of Egan and Currams did serious damage throughout and were the main catalyst for much of Offaly’s quality play. At the same time, the decision to substitute Niall McCarthy was another inexplicable decision by management as Niall was doing a decent job of winning ball on the ground. With Kenny and Cronin out for the next game, it’ll be interesting to see who management go for, as even though Jerry O’Connor played well in parts he hasn’t gotten the legs for a 70 minute game. The same can be said for Ben, who’s play got noticeably more ragged as the game went on, and it says much about the talent in Cork hurling right now that we are still heavily reliant on both players, even though neither fits in with the direct style of hurling management is trying to create.

With Cronin off, Paudi O’Sullivan was forced into the half-forward line where he worked tirelessly for 50 minutes, hooking and blocking constantly. Alongside him Cian McCarthy had a pretty mediocre game, and failed to offer a consistent outlet for Donal Og’s puck-outs, although his first time finish for the goal was nice. One maybe wonders if McCarthy wouldn’t be of more use at full-forward as a physical presence as he struggles to cover ground effectively at center-forward. Inside, Patrick Horgan was probably MOTM, and continued his exceptional championship form, giving Offaly’s full-back line a torrid time throughout. Alongside him, Luke O’Farrell recieved a lot less ball, had to contend with the extra man in front of him for much of the game and besides finishing off a handy goal had no impact on the game.

Regarding Offaly, they’ll be disapointed they didn’t at least get a draw. Their finishing was, to say the least, abysmal. In truth Cork hit almost as many bad wides as Offaly did, particularly in the closing ten minutes of the game but the two excellent goal chances Offaly missed just before half-time were inexcusable and the losing of the game. For much of the second half Offaly didn’t look overly bothered while Cork dominated possession and created a eight point lead before a raft of Cork substitutions and a fluke goal at the end created a belated revival. Dooley had a decent game and was impressive from the dead ball but didn’t have as much impact as expected and was curtailed relatively effectively by both Brian Murphy and Eoin Cadogan. Joe Bergin and Ger Healion won decent ball in the air while Offaly’s midfield was its most effective line, Currams in particular putting in a near MOTM performance, his long distance shooting unerring. Generally Offaly bullied Cork in the air and offered considerable physical presence throughout. At the same time, their lack of class and pace was too often evident, particularly in their failure to take their many good chances.

In truth, its difficult to know exactly where Cork are after this performance. From one point of view, its just important that we won a tight championship game despite being a man down for most of the game. From another point of view, the form of a number of players is highly worrying, we nearly lost at home to a limited Offaly team while the loss of Cronin is huge, being as he is our main playmaker and ball-winner. In truth, I can’t see us going anywhere without Cronin and have little trust in management sorting out our now many selection problems in the half-back line, midfield and half-forward line. Mercifully, Galway are in turmoil, Wexford probably worse then Offaly and more flaky, while Clare are in transition and usually inconsistent outside of Munster. Limerick aside, we have a decent chance of progressing out of the qualifiers but right now the likes of Kilkenny, Dublin, Waterford and Tipperary are on another level.

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