DEVASTATION for the Cork hurling faithful after a woeful second half at Croke Park saw their All-Ireland dreams crushed.
Despite a brilliant hat-trick of goals from Patrick Horgan and the incisive play of number 13 Alan Cadogan, who was fouled four times and also hit 0-4, the Rebels were outworked and outgunned by Kilkenny. It’s a sickening conclusion to a summer that promised so much when Limerick were overturned in the Gaelic Grounds back in May.
That seems like an eternity ago now.
Being beaten 2-27 to 3-18 told the tale of how exposed Cork’s rearguard was.
There could be no arguing with this result, even if Cork left a host of scoring chances behind in the first half, while Eoin Murphy also pulled off a stunning stop from Cadogan. At the break, the Rebels were 2-10 to 1-11 ahead and appeared to be in command.
They were absolutely stuck to the ground on the restart though, allowing Richie Hogan ghost in behind for a crucial goal and their only response to eight points from the Cats in the third quarter was a lone Horgan free. 2-19 to 2-11 in arrears Cork appeared dead and buried only for a 1-3 salvo from Horgan (goal), Cadogan (2) and Harnedy brought the stadium to life.
The Rebels chants started to boom from Hill 16 but the issues which undermined John Meyler’s side throughout cost them again. There was far too much space in behind Cork’s 45 while there were no ball-winning options on Anthony Nash’s puck-outs.
Robbie O’Flynn and Shane Kingston were introduced but couldn’t make the sliotar stick across the half-forward line though Tim O’Mahony was immense in midfield in replacing the injured Bill Cooper. Cadogan and Harnedy were just wide with point-attempts in the last 10 minutes and Kilkenny were able to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
A couple of late frees were driven goalward with venom by Horgan, whose best ever display at Croker, ended in defeat. Horgan’s efforts were reminiscent of Seamus Callanan when Tipp lost to Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final. The difference is Callanan already has two Celtic Crosses.
Kilkenny were far hungrier than Cork. That was inexplicable and unacceptable. Kilkenny were facing into a third season in succession without reaching the All-Ireland semi-final, which last happened from 1994 to 1996, and fought for every possession like it mattered.
Nash went short time and again with puck-outs when the alternative was losing ball in the crowded middle third, but the use of it was terrible. Seán O’Donoghue, Niall O’Leary, Chris Joyce, Mark Ellis and Stephen McDonnell all got turned over or miscued passes under pressure.
While Cork were favourites coming in, Kilkenny had only lost four league and championship games from the previous 15 between the rivals. You can extend that to 16.
It’s a horrible stat but far worse is the fact Cork are now without a senior hurling All-Ireland since 2005 and the noughties are a write-off.
Horgan was a minor when Cork were climbing up the steps of the Hogan Stand 14 years ago and the danger is he’s set to become the greatest Cork hurler, and one of the most gifted, not to lift Liam McCarthy.
Where do Cork go from here? That will be a hot topic in the shadow of the Shandon Bells this week and into the winter.
There is no shortage of talent in the Rebel ranks but the leadership, cutting and ruthlessness they needed to progress to a semi-final with Limerick simply wasn’t on display. Eoin Cadogan thundered out with a number of deliveries from full-back but too few of his team-mates matched his fire.
Bill Cooper and Daniel Kearney often set the tone with their tracking and tackling but they couldn’t impose their will on that vital around midfield. Darragh Fitzgibbon set up Horgan’s second goal and got a point but was peripheral too often.
A shrewder approach was needed to release Mark Coleman, who ended up midfield in the closing stages, to carry possession out wide and deliver it into the full-forward line given how deadly they looked from the throw-in when Horgan instantly pointed.
Conor Lehane, between injuries and time on the bench, wasn’t sharp and in form. And even though he didn’t get motoring on his introduction, Kingston should have started instead.
O’Donoghue was in bother with Richie Hogan’s energetic efforts from early on and Damien Cahalane would have added steel defensively if he’d been brought on sooner.
Not that any of it matters now.
The Cork hurlers head off to the lick their wounds and refocus on club glory, while Limerick, Wexford, Tipp and Kilkenny take centre-stage at the end of the month.
At underage level, while it was deflating not to win last year’s U21 All-Ireland or the 2017 minor crown, there isn’t any shortage of young guns looking to step up.
The U20s face Tipp on Tuesday week in Thurles in the Munster final and will be the All-Ireland semi-final whether they win or lose.
Getting over the line in that grade would offer a welcome lift to all. Denis Ring and his management are aware of the weight of expectation on their shoulders.
The likes of Brian Turnbull, Shane O’Regan, Ger Millerick, Robert Downey (who was blooded at senior in the Munster series), Seán O’Leary Hayes, James Keating and Daire Connery will all be candidates to hurl at the top in 2020.
Will that be enough to get Cork hurling back to the top? We can only hope.
Cork were a puck of a sliotar away in 2013 but since that All-Ireland replay all four trips to Jones Road have been in the worst possible way.