The John Horgan column: Cork hurling has the talent to challenge again

The John Horgan column: Cork hurling has the talent to challenge again

Robert Downey of Cork in action against Alan Flynn of Tipperary last weekend. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

AT the end of the day you have to deal in facts and, for the Cork hurlers, they cannot be ignored.

The All-Ireland race is now down to just six teams and Cork are not among them. In the National League, Cork did not make it through to the knockout stages before it was halted due to the pandemic.

Last Saturday’s defeat to Tipperary means that come 2021 it will be 16 years since Cork lifted the McCarthy Cup.

The county hasn’t won a minor All-Ireland since 2001 and an U21 and U20 since 1998.

Those facts don’t paint a pretty picture, but that’s the way it is; no county has a divine right to be winning anything.

All the leading counties have barren spells. Cork’s conquerors last Saturday, Tipperary went 18 years from 1971 to 1989 without an All-Ireland, Limerick from 1973 to 2018, Wexford haven’t won one since 1996, Galway went from 1988 to 2017 and even Kilkenny went 10 years without one, 1947 to 1957.

Cork’s defeat last Saturday was disappointing because they were in a strong position at half-time to win the game; just a brace of points in arrears having played against the treacherous elements.

They led by a point on the hour mark, but in the final 10 minutes, 13 with time added on, they could only muster up two more points and conceded 1-4.

Maybe in those closing minutes, the endeavours of the past two weeks against Waterford and Dublin caught up with them, whereas Tipperay had the extra week after their capitulation to Limerick.

Tipperary’s bench was more productive too, two of their subs, Paul Flynn and Willie Connors, posted three points; crucial scores on the day that was in it.

Cork introduced two of their subs, Billy Hennessy and Aidan Walsh, in the 70th and 73rd minutes and that was just too late altogether.

So, when the management sits down to conduct an appraisal of the season, how will they look at it?

The lack of consistency is still a problem and maybe if the team had played as well as they did against Dublin and not as poor as they had been against Waterford, they’d have been in a Munster final on Sunday, avoiding the potential banana skin that is the qualifiers and we could now be looking forward next weekend to an All-Ireland quarter-final or maybe even a semi-final, who knows.

Playing three weeks on the trot is a big ask for any side at this time of the year; on the other hand, the win over Dublin should have provided plenty of momentum.

There are still problems in key defensive areas, although the form of Mark Coleman has to be viewed as a very positive portent going forward.

Robbie O'Flynn and Noel McGrath of Tipperary. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Robbie O'Flynn and Noel McGrath of Tipperary. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

FORM:

On the attacking front, Seamie Harnedy has regained a lot of the form that won him two All-Stars and that has to be a positive too.

Deccie Dalton will have benefited enormously from the past few weekends while Patrick Horgan will remain as key a player as he always has been and Darragh Fitzgibbon will be fully fit again.

But there will have to be changes going forward and Kieran Kingston and selectors will be fully aware of that.

The league is not as far off this season as in other years if you made an early championship exit and Cork must do a lot better in the secondary competition.

There is not a mentality of winning major championships in the different grades in Cork anymore and winning a league might not do any harm.

This year’s minor and U20 sides were looking very good without any guarantees and, hopefully, those competitions will be run off and provide the players who have huge potential with the opportunity of showing what they can do in a Cork jersey.

Going forward, we must be given the opportunity of having a look at a few of the Blackrock players who were hugely instrumental in bringing the county back to Church Road.

Players like Niall Cashman, Daniel Meaney, and Tadhg Deasy must be looked at in the league.

Getting the right blend of youth and experience is never easy and going forward some big calls will have to be made by the management.

Liam Cahill did it in Waterford when he omitted Noel Connors and Maurice Shanahan and they are one of those last six counties in the race for the big prize. Despite the obvious disappointment of another empty year and a lengthening of the famine without an All-Ireland, there has to be a level of optimism going forward.

Cork are not winning the big games that count right now but, at the same time, they are not a million miles away either.

More settlement in key defensive positions will be required, the issue of greater consistency must be addressed, and a stronger panel must be developed. Kilkenny sprung Riche Hogan from the bench last Saturday night against Galway and look what happened, he ended up with 1-2.

Tipp had the stronger bench too last Sunday, Limerick have probably the best bench in the country. Having to be on the outside looking in now for the remainder of the championship is galling.

However, there’s enough quality among a lot of those who started last Saturday and those that are coming through to remain optimistic for better days ahead.

But it won’t get any easier.

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