EVERY Cork hurling fan’s worst nightmare occurred in Croke Park.
A complete system failure early in the second half allowed Kilkenny to steal an All-Ireland semi-final berth at their expense.
Cork got the team selection wrong from the start, which led to the puck-out battle being lost, which led to a flawed short puck-out strategy. After Richie Hogan’s goal, for 16 whole minutes in the second half, the Rebels managed only a single Horgan free.
At any moment the Cork challenge could have been kick-started introducing the impressive Tim O’Mahony earlier and to the half-forward line, as well as bringing on Declan Dalton.
This was pretty much the same forward configuration as Cork lined out with for their opening round no-show defeat to Tipperary back in May – just swap Alan Cadogan for Shane Kingston – and most people will remember how badly that went.
Cork were extremely poor that day down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. They repeated the performance on Sunday in Croke Park. Indeed they were arguably worse.
After that game, we criticised John Meyler, and his selectors, for the manner in which they set up the Cork attack. A forward unit with only one recognised ball winner in Seamus Harnedy seemed bizarre in the extreme. They rectified the mistake the next day against Limerick, and the difference in the team’s performance was enormous, with Aidan Walsh greatly helping out in the ball-winning stakes.
Having that extra ball-winner meant that the Cork goalkeeper and defense had options to go either short through the lines or long to one of two target men. The result was a seven-point win over the All-Ireland champions. The Rebels were not predictable so Limerick did not know whether to press up or drop deep.
Walsh’s recent unfortunate injury meant that this option was removed from Meyler and co, but instead of just bringing in a like for like replacement in Tim O’Mahony or Declan Dalton the Cork management decided to revert back to the tried and failed set-up that were found wanting against Tipp.
The result: Cork’s elimination at the quarter-final stage to a side that they really should have been too strong for.
Without a physical presence in attack, the opposition half-back line can get on top and start raining balls down at the other end This is what inevitably transpired, and is why the Cork defense will be shipping a lot of criticism as well in the coming weeks.
If your half-forward line is not making the ball stick this invariably means your defense is going to be in trouble. It’s not rocket science, yet Cork made the same mistake again.
Anthony Nash will also receive a lot of criticism for the number of puck outs that went straight to unmarked Kilkenny players, and indeed, some of the puck-outs from the Kanturk man were downright poor, but there is not a goalkeeper alive who would have regularly found his man on Sunday with the lack of options. Once Kilkenny limited Harnedy’s influence they knew that Nash couldn’t go long.
To compound this situation Kilkenny were clearly happy to isolate Sean O’Donoghue in the right corner and to attempt to turnover Cork deep in their own half, which they did on numerous occasions. You never see a Kilkenny team making such naïve and fundamental errors, yet Cork did it over and over again.
Cork’s hari-kari hurling saw them cough up a phenomenal 2-27 to a Kilkenny attack where TJ Reid failed to score a single point from play. That in itself tells a tale, as players who weren’t at the races in the Leinster final against Wexford were suddenly looking like All-Stars.
And the annoying thing, from a Cork perspective, is that they clearly possessed the two most dangerous forwards on the pitch. Alan Cadogan bagged four from play and was fouled for a number of frees too, and alongside him the imperious Patrick Horgan had arguably his finest performance in a Cork jersey, scoring 3-10.
Despite this Cork could not feed the duo with enough ball. The fact that the rest of the Cork team only managed to contribute a further four points over the 70 minutes is an indication of the complete systems failure that ensued.
It is going to be an extremely long winter now. It is likely that some of the management and some of the players will not be there next season. It would seem that new faces and fresh ideas are required for Cork going forward, as this defeat had the feeling of a brick wall being hit by the current set-up.
Now is not the time to start rattling off the next great white hopes of Cork hurling though. The wound from this one is still too raw. We’ll leave that for another day.