IT is hard not to come away from Saturday evening’s defeat to Tipperary without thinking that Cork must be the worst tactical side amongst the top hurling counties.
They had all the hard work done in the first half, trailing by just two points at the break despite playing into a gale, yet decided to play through the lines in the second half, thus negating the huge wind advantage that they enjoyed. That invited a hungry Tipp side onto them, which gave them an avenue back into the game when a clinical side would not have left them a way back.
Tipperary had hit 12 wides in the first half with that forceful breeze at their backs, and the feeling at half time was that their 0-9 to 1-4 lead was nowhere near big enough. We thought that Cork would surely be able to avail of the huge wind advantage to get the job done in the second half.
The Cork work-rate in the first half was very good, with all 15 players working their socks off to make life as difficult for Tipp as possible, but the one big warning sign was that Cork were getting cleaned out in the rucks. Every time the ball hit the sodden Gaelic Grounds turf a battle for possession would ensue, and invariably it would be a player in blue and gold who would emerge with the yellow sliotar in hand.
Unfortunately, this trend continued and Cork were completely outworked in the second half, with Tipp being let off the hook, and they could not believe their luck that it is them who are now looking forward to an All-Ireland quarter-final tie.
Ironically it was from one such ruck that Cork scored their goal. A popped Premier pass was pickpocketed by Patrick Horgan, and with almost the entire Tipp defence pushed up he was able to run almost half the length of the pitch and fire low into the corner of Brian Hogan’s net.
Given the conditions, where scores were at a premium, a goal against the wind was massive for the confidence levels. Indeed Cork scored 1-2 without reply in this spell.
While the name of Darragh Fitzgibbon was the headline story when looking at the list of Cork replacements, it was strange Kieran Kingston went with so few attacking subs. Fitzgibbon, if fit enough, was a huge option for sure, and also Conor Lehane, even if he has been out of sorts of late, but apart from that there was no real scoring threat in reserve.
Cork needed scoring options at the death, and they simply weren’t there. Given the county championships that they had for Blackrock you would have thought that the game was set up for Alan Connolly and Tadhg Deasy to really hurt Tipp late on. However, the Rockies weren’t represented in the match-day panel.
Cork really had to box much more clever with the wind. The game was crying out for Tim O’Mahony to be placed on the edge of the square for the entire second half to give them a genuine long ball option.
When Cork did not do this Tipperary could push up, which is bizarre, as this is the exact opposite of what a team playing against the elements should be able to do.
One of the few positives that Cork can take away from this short campaign is that a number of Cork’s younger talents can now call themselves senior inter-county hurlers. Sean O’Leary-Hayes, Daire Connery, Billy Hennessy, Brian Turnbull and Shane Barrett all got their first tastes of the big time, and hopefully the experience gained over the past few weeks will be of huge benefit to them next season and beyond.
Overall Kieran Kingston used 27 players over the course of the three games against Waterford, Dublin and Tipperary. The selection for the opening game against the Déise was most definitely biased towards the more experienced members of the panel, but the Cork management had no qualms about turning to the younger members of the panel when needed.
Being missing the two Cadogans was a huge blow and Darragh Fitzgibbon just back from a serious hamstring injury was not ideal either.
The year ends, however, and another brilliant opportunity has been missed by Cork.