Cork hurling is moving in the right direction but not as quickly as we hoped

Cork hurling is moving in the right direction but not as quickly as we hoped
Conor Cahalane celebrates scoring a goal. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

IT’S not easy to be positive this week after another hugely frustrating Cork hurling defeat.

Fair play to Limerick for ending their 45-year wait but it didn’t take the sting out of throwing away the semi-final against them. That’s a loss that will haunt us over the winter.

Likewise the defeat to Tipperary. They took full advantage of the backdoor at U21 to reboot their team and snatch an All-Ireland from the grasp of a gifted young Cork group.

Full credit to them because they deserved to pull off a major upset. Cork didn’t hurl to their maximum for long spells of a gruelling game.

Where only a month ago Cork had legitimate hopes they could replicate 1966 and win All-Irelands at senior and U21 with a large crossover of players, they ended up with just the provincial crowns to fall back on. You can be sure the Limerick seniors and the Tipp U21s aren’t too bothered they were beaten in Munster now.

Mark Coleman just about holds on the sliotar as Colin English challenges. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Mark Coleman just about holds on the sliotar as Colin English challenges. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

There’s a hectic schedule of club activity on the horizon so the Cork players will at least have that as a distraction but their wounds will be raw for some time. For the supporters, it’s the same.

However, Cork hurling is in a far better place than it was even two years ago.

If you’d told the Rebel faithful back in January 2017 that over the next two seasons they’d win successive Munster titles at senior level, as well as provincial silverware at minor and U21 and an U17 All-Ireland, they probably wouldn’t have believed you.

You can counter that by saying Cork’s standards should be higher, that All-Irelands should be the only barometer in a county where Liam McCarthy was carried home 30 times, but that’s not realistic anymore. Incremental progress is vital because Cork have no divine right to glory.

Since the halcyon days of the double in 1990, Cork have won three All-Irelands at senior (1999, 2004-05), two at U21 (1997-98) and three at minor (1995, ’98, 2001). Joe Deane, Donal Óg, Seán Óg and co were at the heart of six of those eight All-Irelands.

Seán Óg Ó hAilpín at U21 level. Picture: Des Barry
Seán Óg Ó hAilpín at U21 level. Picture: Des Barry

Losing last Sunday’s final to Tipp was a huge blow. To Rebel pride, to the development of the hurlers in the U21 ranks, the management and backroom who put so much in, and the fans.

There’s no point in saying it was anything other than a total sickener. A hurling disaster in many ways.

Very few of the players hurled as well as we know they can. The selectors should have used the bench more efficiently and mixed up their game-plan to allow for the conditions.

Even then there was only a puck of a sliotar in it when the final whistle sounded. Ninety seconds into injury time Cork were a point in front. Agonisingly close.

What impact will the loss have on Darragh Fitzgibbon, Shane Kingston, Mark Coleman and the rest at senior next summer? An All-Ireland underage triumph would have ticked a box before they signed off to senior but it won’t necessarily hamper their prospects of climbing the steps for Liam McCarthy.

That’s assuming their self-belief and confidence isn’t shaken by the events last weekend.

Only time will really tell. Was it the perfect storm of overhype and a heavy pitch which undid Cork against Tipp? Or is there something missing, the X factor which turns contenders into champions?

The lack of a killer instinct which has undermined Cork teams across all ages for some time was a huge issue again in the Gaelic Grounds.

Trying to be upbeat Robbie O’Flynn and Tim O’Mahony are certain to make a mark at senior, while Jack O’Connor, Billy Hennessy, David Lowney, Deccie Dalton and Conor Cahalane were among the standouts across the U21s’ four games who look to have the tools for the step up.

Tipperary’s Jerome Cahill with David Lowney. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Tipperary’s Jerome Cahill with David Lowney. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Next year’s U20 team will be decent, led by Brian Turnbull, Daire Connery and Ger Collins.

Last Saturday the U14s won the Tony Forristal and Sonny Walsh Cups with their two panels.

The production line is cranking up. Yet not fast enough to land the major prizes it seems.

Daire Connery, who only recently turned 18, has a bright future in red. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Daire Connery, who only recently turned 18, has a bright future in red. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

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