The Tony Considine column: Forwards win you games but ruthless defenders win you All-Irelands

The Tony Considine column: Forwards win you games but ruthless defenders win you All-Irelands
Eoin Cadogan of Cork is tackled by Aaron Gillane of Limerick late on. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

AS I write, that’s if I have any energy left to do so after two of the most enthralling All-Ireland semi-finals that I have seen in a long time.

Extra time was very hard on me, as it was on every supporter at the games at the weekend. Now, if we are suffering from mental and physical exhaustion, what are the players and management of all four teams like?

With the new format this year, and great credit to the people that thought it up, I believe that it’s a big mistake to ask players to play ‘extra time’ to decide the matches.

And the reason I’m saying this, and it’s something that was very high on the GAA agenda a few years ago, is the health and safety aspect of the most important people of all. The players should always be number one.

I don’t think that amateur players in a game that is the fastest field game in the world, and getting faster all the time, should be asked after 70-75 min to go out again for another 22-23 minutes to decide a match, especially on the first day.

I have seen players falling all over the place with cramp and maybe becoming a small bit disorientated from pure physical exhaustion and frustration, which is not good for any player. I think if the game finishes level the first day, it should go to a replay.

Damien Cahalane, left, and Bill Cooper were shattered after. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Damien Cahalane, left, and Bill Cooper were shattered after. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

As to both games over the weekend. I for one did not expect to see two draws at the end of normal time, nor did anyone else I’m sure. After the brilliant encounter between Galway and Clare on Saturday, I was wondering if Cork and Limerick could match it, and they did but in a different type of game.

This is the second time this year these two counties provided great entertainment, but its poor consolation to the Cork supporters, who for the third time in five years see their team defeated. This will hurt the most as Cork were definitely in a winning position being, six points up with only eight minutes of play to go. They should have gotten over the line. I think they lack that killer instinct and ruthless streak.

This Cork team are too nice and gentle against a team that hit as hard as Limerick do. You need a few rough edges, and for want of a better word, a few assassins in your team, to match that, particularly in defence. Ball players and skillful players are great to look at, especially ball playing forwards getting some beautiful scores.

Conor Lehane buries a goal. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Conor Lehane buries a goal. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Daniel Kearney, Seamus Harnedy, Patrick Horgan and, when the mood takes him, Conor Lehane, can win you matches. In my opinion, good defenders win you championships.

It has been a problem for Cork, especially matches in Croke Park, that their defenders lack the real cutting edge Cork defenders in the past had in abundance. You earned every score you got off those men, especially the full-back line - the ‘Rock’ and company and a lot of good defenders before them made sure you earned every score. Now Cork could really do with fellas like Brian Murphy and John Gardiner of the most recent times.

While Cork have good ball-playing defenders now, I think they need to learn the art of real defending: to stop scores. Hard lessons need to be learned. You can’t give guys at this level so many opportunities. Aaron Gillane, who apart from his frees, did real damage from play, and should have got three goals as well. Graeme Mulcahy scored four points from play, Gearóid Hegarty three and sub Shane Dowling who managed a match-winning 1-4.

If the defenders were defending properly that should not be happening. that amounts to a lot of scores in any game, but especially in an All-Ireland semi-final when the stakes are so high. The Cork defence do a lot of ball watching and not man watching - the two go hand in hand and one is equally as important as the other. Good defenders are not always the best hurlers and I think this is something this team and its coaches must really concentrate on.

Good man-marking I believe is essential for any defender, together with a ruthless streak and putting the body on the line to stop that score. I think guys like Seán O’Donoghue, Colm Spillane and Damian Cahalane learned hard lessons in this department. 

Being nice in an All-Ireland semi-final and playing ‘excuse me’ hurling does not work. You have to get angry about it in a controlled way, and put pressure on your opponent, real pressure at every opportunity, not dirty play or anything like that. And show leadership.

Limerick’s Seamus Flanagan battles Colm Spillane. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Limerick’s Seamus Flanagan battles Colm Spillane. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Cork scored enough to win any game. You don’t forget lessons like yesterday’s, especially when you’re in a winning position, you close down the hatches and let no one in.

I think overall Limerick deserved their win. I think John Kiely used his bench very well, and the subs made a major impact, scoring 2-6 between them. Cork subs did not make the same impact, only scoring one point. Limerick finished the stronger. Their level of fitness very high.

They are now in the All-Ireland final but they also have a lot of things to work on. Galway or Clare will not be as accommodating as Cork were yesterday.

Back to the drawing board for Cork and a lot of soul searching to be done.

Next week Galway and Clare replay and I believe it should be played in Croke Park and not Thurles.

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