THE wait for a hurling All-Ireland goes on for Cork after the incredibly disappointing defeat at the hands of old rivals Tipperary in the U20 All-Ireland final on Saturday evening.
Cork hurling followers were eagerly looking to this Munster final repeat, yet after about eight minutes, it was curtains. The four soft goals conceded meant that Tipp were practically out the gate, cup in hand.
The frustrating aspect from a Cork point of view is that they know they are closely matched with this Tipp team. They beat them, after a replay, two years ago at minor level, while it took a last-ditch Jake Morris goal to deny Cork earlier this summer.
The question has to be asked, how did it go so badly wrong?
Right from the first whistle, there was cause for concern. You could tell the players hadn’t even gotten into their respective positions yet by the time the referee threw the ball in. Whoever won that first ball was going to have a serious chance of cutting through, and so it proved.
Billy Seymour had the simple task of drilling past Ger Collins after just 19 seconds.
It was a nightmare start, and the Cork rearguard were clearly rattled, coughing up three further goals in the next few minutes. Tipp always have fine, intelligent stickmen, so if you stand off them, they are going to take you apart.
The Cork defenders never laid a finger on the Tipp attackers during this car-crash of a goalfest. The fourth goal was a prime example. There was an opportunity for a young Cork defender to take the man down and take his yellow card. Instead, he went for a shoulder and Collins hadn’t a hope.
Like too many Cork teams in recent times, there was a serious lack of steel when it was needed. ‘Cutting’ is a word often used to describe a positive attitude in a hurling team.
This Cork team lacked cutting.
The Tipp players, to a man, were playing like they were contesting an All-Ireland final. The Cork lads seemed like they were playing some random challenge match rather than the championship decider. Their touch was off, they looked leggy and lethargic, and did not seem primed for battle.
And to make matters worse for them, we all have a direct comparison we can throw their way. The Cork U20 footballers suffered a similar start against Dublin in their All-Ireland final, yet the way they responded to their setback couldn’t have differed more to what the hurlers managed.
A few Cork players certainly plugged away until the end. Sean O’Leary Hayes hurled well in the second half, and Robert Downey came into it too once he had got some sloppy play out of his system.
Sean Twomey also became more prominent in that second period. Sean O’Regan kept going for the hour, winning a load of ball that came his way. The way the Tipp lads ran lines off of their full-forward line in contrast to the non-runners supporting O’Regan, said a lot, though.
There was certainly a coaching deficit in this regard.
Cork’s best performance of the year was arguably their first outing against Limerick. You could easily argue that they regressed in every performance since. Tipp, on the other hand, seemed to get better with every appearance, which is something you would expect from an underage outfit.
Denis Ring has now coached three Cork teams in three years that have contested All-Ireland finals, and each of these sides had high hopes of being the team that finally brought a silverware back to Leeside. Unfortunately, for the third year in a row, the side that he was in charge of did not look prepared on the big day.
The substitutions of high-profile players like James Keating and Daire Connery when the horse had already bolted, seemed like an attempt to make a point.
It’s time Cork appointed progressive, young coaches as the same heads are being out-thought year after year.
The hope before 6.08pm on Saturday evening was that four or five of this team would leapfrog onto the senior panel next year boosted by the confidence of having a Celtic Cross in their pocket. Unfortunately, all we have is another lost opportunity.
On a day with absolutely no positives, we will limp onward towards the 2020 campaign knowing that seven of Saturday’s starters and a couple of the sub bench will be underage again next year.
This will effectively be the team that won the U17 All-Ireland up in Croke Park two years ago. With a new management team in place, there is no reason why they can’t contend again.
They just need better coaching, a bit more know-how and more cynicism.
That’s for next year, though. For now, all Cork hurling can do is to go lick their wounds and winter well.