Cork hurlers are being heavily criticised but the only response can be on the pitch

Cork hurlers are being heavily criticised but the only response can be on the pitch

Shane Fives and Stephen Bennett of Waterford, left, attempts to gain possession ahead of Cork players, Bill Cooper, Jack O'Connor and Luke Meade. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

THE only saving grace for the Cork hurlers exiting Semple Stadium last Saturday evening was that they are still in the All-Ireland championship.

In football this season if you lose your opening provincial encounter, it's game over, as Monaghan’s was after an extra-time defeat to Cavan. So, the Cork hurlers will have an opportunity to try and put the very disappointing defeat to Waterford behind them and stay alive in the chase for the McCarthy Cup.

In the overall scheme of things at this juncture, Cork would appear to be well down the list of serious All-Ireland contenders but in this, the strangest year, anything might yet be possible.

Saturday's loss to the Déise was a defeat they certainly could have no complaints about. But you have to move on, put that 70 minutes behind them and prove to everybody that they are a much better team than the one that was well beaten, even if the scoreline did not reflect it.

In the aftermath of any bad defeat, the inevitable question to be asked, where do we go from here? Again, given the year that we have had, nobody was fully sure what to expect from Cork.

There was no form guide, the absence of a competitive game for such a protracted period had to be factored in and you were going to be playing in an empty stadium, something no player had experienced before.

Was that a factor? Who knows but two of the best-supported counties in hurling, Cork and Wexford both went down very badly.

Kieran Kingston was at a loss to explain why things had not gone better in Thurles and made no excuses.

Cork manager Kieran Kingston. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cork manager Kieran Kingston. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

He did, however, point out that training and challenge games had gone well. Those never compare to the intensity of the championship and it would be fair to suggest Cork lacked that bite.

No team is going to get all 15 starters hurling to their limits but when you are down to one third or less of that number really measuring up you are on the back foot. It's mystifying because those who didn’t have a good day in Thurles are capable of much more.

The attack as a unit didn’t function as it should be doing. That simply has to change. There is a well-held perception too that Cork haven't got stability down the centre.

So, where do you go from here?

Jack Prendergast battles Mark Coleman, Seán O'Leary-Hayes and Robert Downey. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jack Prendergast battles Mark Coleman, Seán O'Leary-Hayes and Robert Downey. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Well, for starters there will have to be changes. The likes of Deccie Dalton, who posted a decent point after his introduction has the physical presence to be a starter, especially at this time of year on heavier pitches.

Aidan Walsh, if he’s fully fit, would be an asset too in that regard. Stephen McDonnell’s experience in defence must be discussed among the management too while a fit Colm Spillane would be an automatic.

Some people were a bit bewildered that county champions Blackrock had not even one player on the named panel last Saturday. The likes of Tadhg Deasy, Alan Connolly and Michael O’Halloran are involved in the wider squad.

There was a lot of criticism pointed at this Cork team over the weekend, a lot of it justified, but at the same time without some semblance of positivity going forward we are going nowhere.

And, maybe being a super optimist, I believe that most of these Cork players can still salvage something yet.

But that can only happen if the work-rate increases throughout the field, players simply have to back each other up a lot more. Some players have lost the form that not so long ago had them among the best in the business.

Well, there’s an old adage: form is temporary, class is permanent. Now is the time for evidence of that.

This is a huge week for everybody connected with the Cork team, a few home truths will have to be uttered and some very hard calls will have to be made.

Last Saturday, Patrick Horgan, Shane Kingston and Mark Coleman were Cork’s standout players. The management needs that number to be trebled at the very least.

Waterford had far more players performing at the level required and that’s why they are now in a Munster final.

And, let’s face it, they should not have been in the position deep in stoppage time that a second Cork goal would have brought the game to extra-time.

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