CORK have a serious job on their hands to survive the Munster series after an utterly underwhelming display against Tipp.
There were absolutely no complaints from the Rebel faithful after. Cork got what they deserved at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
They were outworked, outthought and outhurled for the most part. Only the imperious Patrick Horgan was at full tilt, though Niall O’Leary justified his inclusion with a solid debut at number four.
The only issue was a couple of terrible calls from the ref when Horgan and Darragh Fitzgibbon were fouled late on. Those decisions wouldn’t have changed the result but might have an impact in the final round-robin rankings if scoring difference comes in.
John Meyler’s charges now have to go to the Gaelic Grounds to grind out a result and get back into contention hurl into July.
Limerick will be hugely motivated in their first outing as All-Ireland champions. It’s going to take a significant change in attitude and an improvement in hurling basics for Cork to upset the odds.
Yes, Cork were the only team to beat the Shannonsiders in the league but even then it wasn’t by much and Limerick were sloppy in their finishing. The Cork County Board pushing all club games back to August could look pretty futile if the hurlers are out on June 16 after their last Munster game up to Ennis.
What went wrong against the Premier? Pretty much everything you could argue, as apart from a burst midway through the first half when Cork strung six together unanswered points Tipp were in control throughout.
They rattled over 2-28, all bar four from play, and could afford to have Anthony Nash pull off a brilliant penalty stop without being knocked out of their stride. Liam Sheedy’s fingerprints were all over this, from the physicality in the middle third to the movement up top.
As was the case in the spring, especially against Tony Kelly and Clare, the Rebel rearguard isn’t structured to cut off the space where a roaming number 11 thrives. Rookie centre-back Tim O’Mahony has his moments, including a point, but Bubbles O’Dwyer was able to slam over 0-7.
That’s a systems failure by any standards.
Eoin Cadogan actually hounded Séamus Callanan effectively but the Tipp captain still rifled 1-4, plus there was the haul of 0-7 from midfield and the half-back line, principally Noel McGrath to the tune of three points. The second goal was expertly drilled past Nash by John McGrath from a typically accurate Bubbles’ assist but it was borne out of ferocious battling across the Cork 65 where the dirty ball was there to be hoovered up.
That scenario was replicated time and again and though Horgan, Conor Lehane, Shane Kingston and Seamus Harnedy combined for 1-12 from play, the Premier defence horsed them out of it on a fair few 50-50 possession. In the first half, Sean Cleere was pretty strict in penalising infringements but as the game got looser in the second half and he let more go the visitors squeezed the life of Cork.
Fitzgibbon wasn’t allowed the room for his customary drives up the centre, Daniel Kearney was unable to show for pop passes from the defence, and Mark Coleman – until he got motoring in the last quarter – was marginalised too. It must be noted Bill Cooper, who cried off before throw-in through injury to be replaced by Robbie O’Flynn, was sorely missed in terms of leadership and cutting.
Luke Meade hurled a fair bit of ball at midfield and Horgan was majestic, curling over four points of the highest quality, as well as nailing frees from all angles.
O’Leary’s first outing was a success, as the penalty he conceded was harsh, and after settling down he held firm against a barrage of deliveries.
His initial marker Jason Forde was replaced after 54 minutes, which reflected his tenacity. He compensated for the absence of Colm Spillane but we could still see alterations at the back next weekend if Damien Cahalane starts instead of Chris Joyce.
Alternatively Cork might switch Coleman to midfield, perhaps with Luke Meade alongside him and Cooper (if fit) man-marking Cian Lynch. That would facilitate Fitzgibbon at centre-forward and allow the selectors utilise Cahalane and Joyce for their height on the flanks to counter Limerick’s size.
Alan Cadogan can’t catch a break in terms of injuries and he was missed in the last 20 minutes with the game on the line.
After this below-par effort Meyler and the management will surely have the players firing from the off against Limerick. The first half here was a catalogue of errors from Fitzgibbon’s pass hitting off the ref’s back to allowing Tipp work a free from their own corner-back slot to an unmarked Noel McGrath.
Even Lehane and Kingston – who was fouled for three frees and had an assist to go with his three points – were guilty of heavy touches. They simply need to be razor sharp next weekend to save Cork’s season.
Another subpar effort and we can forget about it.