Galway 2-23 Cork 1-14 – All-Ireland Hurling Qualifiers (And Afterwards)

Galway: J. Skehill; F. Moore; S. Kavanagh; D. Collins (D. Joyce); D. Barry; T. Og Regan; A. Cullinane; D. Burke (0-2); A. Smith (0-2); J. Gantley (0-1, J. Coen); G. Farragher (0-4); I. Tannion (0-1, K. Hynes); D. Hayes (1-3); J. Canning (0-10; 0-5); A. Kerins (C. Donnellan 1-0).

Cork: D. Og Cusack; B. Murphy; E. Cadogan; S. McDonnell; J. Gardiner; R. Curran; S. O’Neill; J. O’Connor (L. McLoughlin); W. Egan; B. O’Connor; C. McCarthy (0-3, B. Cooper 0-1); N. McCarthy (0-2; C. Lehane 0-1); L. O’Farrell (J. Coughlan); P. O’Sullivan (1-3); P. Horgan (0-4, 0-2f).

Match Review

Cork limply exited the All-Ireland hurling championship on Saturday in increasingly familar circumstances, with yet another hammering at the hands of our one time rivals. Unfortunately it was a game that was probably more depressing then our defeat at the hands of Kilkenny as its likely that that Kilkenny side had more quality then the victorious Galway team of Saturday. And even though the two games went completely different, Cork getting off to a 1-3 to nothing lead on Saturday thanks to Paudie O’Sullivan’s play and James Skehill’s error, both games ended very much the same, the second half Cork performance abject and bereft of confidence. There was even a touch of humiliation in the carefree (Canning’s flick for example) way Galway played in the second half. Unfortunately even though we dragged it back to three points in the second half with the wind Cork were completely unconvincing from the tenth minute onwards as we stopped hitting direct ball into our full-forward line and generally looked a team lacking in self-belief and on the field leadership.

Good performances were few and far between for Cork. Cian McCarthy had his best performance for Cork in championship hurling, winning more ball then usual and being more clinical from play. At the same time Tony Og Regan did a lot of damage and won too much ball in the air – still signs of McCarthy beginning to grow in confidence. The same can be said for Padraig O’Sullivan, who had a scintillating opening quarter until Galway’s physicality took its toll further out the pitch and the fast ball inside dried up. One has to feel sorry for Horgan and O’Sullivan – both looked to have the better of their men but the quality of ball given in was again terrible throughout. Like Cian McCarthy, further performances from the likes of Curran and Egan have to have qualifiers – both played lots of ball, but so did their men. Cadogan put in another solid performance at full-back and was probably Cork’s best, or at least most consistent performer on the day.

Cadogan aside, defensively it was a pretty miserable performance. Both half-backs continued their poor form, although Shane O’Neill was obviously out injured for large parts of the year. Both seem to have lost a bit of pace (not that Gardiner was ever the fastest), hunger and their once domineering form from a few years back. Inside, our full-back  played ok considering the pressure they were under, but both corner backs struggled to handle the Galway corner forwards, Hayes doing massive damage throughout and Kerins unlucky not to hit a couple of goals. McDonnell’s decision to go for a ball that Cadogan was under led directly to a goal but it would be unfair to harshly criticise a young player who has a good debut season. Still, little errors in organisation and indiscipline were a constant on the day, and it was pretty frustrating to see Eoin Cadogan in the first half looking around him wondering who he is supposed to be marking.

In midfield, we got completely destroyed, out worked and out played. Jerry O’Connor had little to no impact on the game; Egan played more ball but both Burke and Smith controlled the intensity of the match through non-stop hard work and aggression. Both were legitimate candidates for MOTM and both are powerful not in the purely physical sense but in their workrate, fitness and non-stop running. Likewise Cork’s half-forward line struggled – both McCarthy’s tried hard and won some ball but Niall was too often errant in his shooting, while Ben O’Connor again made little impact. Indeed his couple of long distance and solitary solo runs down cul-de-sacs represent the increasing worthlessness of the once powerful running game. Inside, Luke O’Farrell had a poor day, his finishing extremely nervy although its clear he can at least win good 50/50 ball. Again he is player lacking in the pace he once had, almost certainly thanks to past injuries.

Galway

Galway of course were more then good value for their win, and could easily have won by more if they so wished. Presumebly criticism before and after the Dublin match stung their pride because their work rate and effort on Saturday was impressive. They are a physical team with some excellent hurlers (obviously Canning, but Farragher has morphed into an intelligent clinical hurler while the likes of Collins, Og Regan and Kavanagh are very powerful defenders), some capable grafters like Smith, and in stark contrast to Cork are motivated, disciplined and very fit. They are an example of where Cork hurling should, if possible be and a good representation of where hurling is right now – all round hurlers, physical, fit, able to point from range, playing direct high intensity hurling and keeping frees to a minimum. Probably worryingly for Cork Galway could have played a decent bit better on Saturday – the opening ten minutes Galway were dozing while in the second half Galway always had a gear more to push to if necessary. One has to of course wish Galway the best of luck in the coming championship.

The Aftermath

Returing to Cork, I might as well get the aftermath stuff down so I can concentrate properly on the footballers and the club scene over the next few months. Firstly, we are in the same place now then when we left the championship last year, albiet we have blooded a few new players under Walsh. I don’t particularly fancy getting into the never-ending players vs management vs county board debate, and peons like myself aren’t really in a position to blame or judge. Moreover, I have no interest in going through every problem with Cork Hurling, as that would take a month or two. However, a few points can be made.

Its hardly unfair to say that management is somewhat out of its depth – I’ve already pointed out their many bad sideline decisions (there was a few more on Saturday) while the bringing in of new players has been grudging considering it was so necessary. Lehane coming in for only ten minutes on Saturday for example, Coughlan not coming on against Offaly, and in general a reliance of older players that have badly lost form rather then being more aggressive using new players even if they are just out of Minor. For example, and without picking on a player that has done great things for Cork through the years, their is pretty much no need to have Kieran Murphy on the bench on Saturday as he has little to offer and was never likely to come on. Similarly Tom Kenny was played throughout the league and sometimes in the championship even though his form for a few years now has been poor, while it must surely have been clear to management that his greatest asset, his speed, is long gone. Both players could have been effectively jettisoned to give a couple of younger players experience. These are two examples (among quite a few) that suggest management is incapable of effectively creating a competitive squad. Thankfully, Denis Walsh’s post-match interview, whilst being slightly delusional (as usual), seemed tinged with resignation that his tenure has been a failure.

The inability of management to effectively manage their squad is connected particularly closely with their failures on the pitch. Its a bit sad that we are still reliant on the O’Connors at this stage in their careers, great players that they were they excelled when their pace and intelligence was connected to a greater gameplan based around support and movement to create space. These things are still important, but the game has evolved beyond O’Grady’s style and just as important now is the ability to play fast direct ball and to be physical. The sight of Ben O’Connor running with the ball, head down for tens of yards on Saturday with no support summed up both the lack of organisation in Cork Hurling right now but also the fact that some players are at odds with the way the game has developed.

Essentially this was a Cork team peppered with players with little to no form, like Gardiner, the O’Connors, Curran and Shane O’Neill with Saturday’s result reflecting this and the complete absence of competitiveness in the squad as a whole. One has to accept that Cork’s recent poor underage record has undermined Denis Walsh’s regime to a degree but the fact that only five U-21s were active in this year’s senior squad was pretty inexcusable. Remember this is a U-21 squad that is (a) very highly rated and (b) filled with people on the age and contains a number of players like Seamus Corry and Dean Brosnan that play in problem positions that excelled in club hurling last year. Moreover, a number of the players that impressed last year against Tipperary U-21s, like Eoin Keane and Ryan Clifford, were evidently not given a chance for the seniors this year. Obviously its far from guaranteed that any of these players were going to make it at senior level, but considering our panel contained a number of players out of form for a number of years it hardly too match to ask for more youth.

Future

Looking to the future there is I think there are enough raw materials in Cork Hurling for us to compete with the Dublins and Galways of this world, even if Kilkenny and Tipperary are out of our league until we start to excel again underage. We have a number of serious players in form – Patrick Horgan, Patrick Cronin – and a number of serious players out of form – John Gardiner, Shane O’Neill – and a number of quality young players that the ability to excel over the future, like McLoughlin, O’Sullivan, Cian McCarthy, McDonnell, Lehane, Nagle, Coughlan and so on. On top of this we can throw in the experience of Niall McCarthy, Donal Og and Brian Murphy combined with some of our better young players like Seamus Corry, Darren McCarthy, Dean Brosnan, Micheal O’Sullivan and Christopher Joyce.

Naturally, and assuming Denis Walsh will move on, we need a new manager who can get the basics right, primarily installing fitness, organisation, discipline and motivation into the side. A strong will is needed to radically alter both the squad and the set up as a whole, the conditioning of the team, for example, being clearly inferior to the likes of Galway, Dublin, Kilkenny etc. There are a number of candidates, young and successful coaches like Crowley at Sars and Lynam at the Glen or more experienced heads like Ger Cunningham. Many dream of the return of Donal O’Grady but this seems extremely unlikely for obvious reasons, while the board’s preferred candidate is likely to be Ger Fitzgerald particularly if the U-21s excel this season, even if he is unpopular amongst many fans. Regardless, we need a Conor Counihan type figure to come in and get the basics correct – even though Counihan had some excellent U-21 teams to pick from, he also brought in the motivation, fitness and organisation completely absent from Saturday’s performance.

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