The best thing that can be said about Sunday’s Allianz HL Division 1A loss to Tipperary is that Cork needn’t fear that they have shown too much of their hand ahead of the championship meeting between the sides.
May 12 sees the sides clash again — hopefully at Páirc Uí Chaoimh — in the opening round of the Munster SHC and one would hope that a yawning 13-point chasm won’t exist. In fact, the final margin was more flattering to Cork, given that Tipp pulled up in the final stages and Aidan Walsh’s goal and a flurry of points made the smallest of dents in the visitors’ lead.
Obviously, it’s not the time to start ringing the alarm bells — after all, Cork found themselves in the Division 1A relegation play-off last year too and still remained undefeated as they won the Munster title. However, how such a poor performance could manifest itself in the wake of wins over Clare and, more impressively, Limerick will be a worry for the management.
While a week of warm-weather training might not have seemed to be the best way to prepare for the four-seasons-in-a-day conditions at Páirc Uí Rinn on Sunday, the time away certainly seemed to stand to Tipp, whose superiority couldn’t be denied, even with the wind-assistance provided as they amassed a 10-point half-time lead.
Bill Cooper was the only Cork player to really have a positive impact in that opening period, though Alan Cadogan’s opening point, nine seconds into his first start for Cork in 51 weeks, seemed to suggest that the Rebels would be up for it. Cadogan’s score showcased all that’s good about his game, an explosiveness which has been missed, but the rustiness from his time out was on show with another wide and there will have been many supporters worried by his departure before half-time.
Cork fans will have everything crossed that it is not too serious as a fit Cadogan would be a huge asset for the championship.
His wide isn’t mentioned to just single him out for there were plenty of other examples of sloppiness while Cork also struggled to win their own puck-outs, especially against the wind — a wind so strong that one Patrick Horgan free travelled nearly the same in height as it did in length.
Still, despite the 0-16 to 0-6 half-time score, John Meyler wasn’t concerned: “We were grand,” he said, “we felt if we could get a few scores and get back into the game but it was Tipp who drove on. They got a couple of scores.”
The scores included the goal from Jason Forde which opened up a 13-point lead that soon became 18. Damien Cahalane won’t need telling about the importance of holding on to Noel McGrath’s delivery, but it was an isolated mistake and it was notable because the St Finbarr’s man has almost eradicated such errors.
These things are magnified depending on the outcome — at the start of the second half, Cormac Murphy launched a ball towards the Tipp goal and netminder Paul Maher similarly dropped the ball but it landed outside the post for a 65. Had that gone in, the lead would have been down to seven and Cork lifted, but instead it was forgotten. Such is the way it is — the consequences determine the attention given to mistakes.
In any case, Cahalane won’t let it get to him and the task for Cork is not to let one, admittedly heavy, defeat drag them down. In that sense, Sunday’s trip to Nowlan Park to face Kilkenny is arguably the best-case scenario for them.
It allows Séamus Harnedy to serve his suspension for the red card he incurred — out of character, but that’s two years in a row he has been sent off — but with no relegation from the top flight, the game loses some importance, with seedings for the revamped league the only real significance attached. Cork can go and play without fear of any consequences, hopefully blowing out the bad petrol from last weekend.
However, how the team can go from beating the All-Ireland champions to such a heavy home defeat must be perplexing. Perhaps the postponement of 10 days ago was a factor, but it shouldn’t be and, in any case, it was the same for Tipp or slightly harder, given the level of training they did in Spain.
Regardless of what happens against Kilkenny, Cork’s next game will be the championship clash against Tipp. The hope has to be that firmer ground and a better day will suit Cork’s style more but there will need to be a collective improvement and Tipp have shown that they won’t be easily beaten — even last year, despite failing to get out of Munster, they salvaged a draw from nine points down against Cork.
This league was all about building squad depth for Cork and it remains to be seen how successful that quest was. The return of Cormac Murphy and Aidan Walsh has shown promise but one would have liked to have seen Jack O’Connor — an injury-time replacement for Walsh on Sunday — given more of a chance to show what he can do, especially as the outcome was decided with 20 minutes to go.
Seán O’Donoghue and Darragh Fitzgibbon are two players who weren’t involved on Sunday who will come back in and strengthen competition for places while, as mentioned above, Alan Cadogan will also provide a plus for 2019 compared to 2018.
Will that be enough? Right now, it’s impossible to say, but the opening two championship games, at home to Tipperary and then away to Limerick on consecutive weekends, will give plenty of insight on that score.
Last year, Cork drew with both and topped the group as Clare and Waterford were beaten. This time around, two points from those two games would again represent an acceptable return.
Anything less than that though and Cork could find themselves under pressure ahead of the second part of the provincial campaign.