Rebel faithful can now plan for summer with a glimmer of optimism

Rebel faithful can now plan for summer with a glimmer of optimism
Conor Lehane drills the sliotar down the line. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

PHEW. 

That was too close for comfort.

Cork have avoided a demoralising drop to Division 1B and they’ve two months now to find their best form before the Munster championship opener against Clare on May 20. It was only one game but it’ll do for now.

Relief was the overriding emotion after last weekend’s play-off because defeat would have completely undone all the good work from 2017. We won’t know until summer rolls around if Cork can replicate the energetic and explosive hurling that thrilled the fans then, but at least the pressure is off.

John Meyler hasn’t appeared too bothered by the situation since his appointment. The new bainisteoir’s priority has clearly been blooding young guns like Seán O’Donoghue, Tim O’Mahony, Robbie O’Flynn and reintegrating Eoin Cadogan.

Yet even he must be relieved that there’s a bit of positivity in the air again. When Cork hurling is motoring there is also a synchronicity between the players and the red masses in the stands and terraces.

The Rebels held all the aces on Sunday with Austin Gleeson a late withdrawal through injury and home advantage, and they were worthy winners. Darragh Fitzgibbon, Bill Cooper and Dean Brosnan chipped in with 10 points from distance between them, which is critical to getting round a sweeper.

Mark Coleman showed flashes of his best too. Those pop passes and silky touches that earned him an All-Star.

Mark Coleman is a joy to watch in full flow. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Mark Coleman is a joy to watch in full flow. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Colm Spillane pulled off a soaring fetch in the last 10 minutes and drilled over a score after a crowd-rousing shoulder on Philip Mahony. Daniel Kearney and Patrick Horgan’s points in the closing stages were inspirational too.

Still it wasn’t always comfortable, given Waterford came within a couple of points even after Maurice Shanahan was sent off.

Bizarrely Derek McGrath suggested to League Sunday that Waterford could have been three or four points up at half-time. Realistically they should have been 10 down, given Colm Spillane was uncharacteristically caught under a high ball for the penalty and Cork had spurned a handful of decent chances between the 45 and the 65 with the wind to their backs.

That’s an area that’ll need work. Not just the finishing but the delivery inside.

Cork tried to drill the sliotar crossfield to Horgan or Alan Cadogan but they often delayed a couple of seconds before picking out the pass, which was enough for Tadhg de Burca to drop and sweep. Quick low ball or the running game are the only viable options against de Burca, which to their credit Cork did more of in the second half.

In general though, this was the best we’ve seen from the Rebels under Meyler. After that decent opening round win over Kilkenny, Cork only hurled in fits and starts for the rest of the league and the supporters were getting restless.

Richie Power didn’t pull any punches in his column for RTE.

“People can say 'the league is the league', but if I was a Cork supporter I'd be very worried. There are whispers coming out of the camp that there's a bit of unrest between the players and management.

“You don't know how true these things are but they haven't progressed and it doesn't look they're going to. It's mind-boggling for a county of their size and you'd have to wonder why.”

Former Kilkenny hurlers often have a cut off Cork but given Richie’s brother John plays for UCC, he might have a bit more inside info than most. Power wasn’t blaming the selectors, more wondering why the group had stagnated.

“Whether it's players, managers or a higher level again I just don't see the development in Cork, despite last year's progress.

“Looking at them now, you'd probably say that Cork are at the bottom of the Munster ladder. Unless things change drastically, I can see them having a very short summer. It will be interesting to see if John Meyler can get any response out of the players.”

Power predicted Waterford would win last weekend, though he didn’t know Gleeson and Kevin Moran would be absent. He was wrong about that and hopefully his prediction of an exit in the Munster series will be too.

Of course none of us can confidently state how the Rebels will fare. Clare showed promise in the league and will feel they owe Cork from last year’s Munster final when they rock up to the Páirc in May.

Tipp, and now Waterford given Walsh Park isn’t being used, in Thurles will be tough. Limerick in the Páirc on June 3 won’t be straightforward either, given John Kiely’s side got a bounce from promotion and can welcome the Na Piarsaigh crew back.

Obviously, Ireland rugby was the box-office attraction on St Patrick’s Day, but that Piarsaigh and Cuala clash in Croker was a belter. After the one-side football decider, with Nemo swept aside by Corofin, the hurling final made up for it.

Kevin Downes of Na Piarsaigh in action against Cian O'Callaghan of Cuala. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Kevin Downes of Na Piarsaigh in action against Cian O'Callaghan of Cuala. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Piarsaigh should have edged it – giving away equalisers at the end of normal and extra time – and Kevin Downes and Peter Casey were constant threats in attack, outshining Cuala tyro Con O’Callaghan. This was hard hurling, but with plenty of dazzling scores.

Without getting into the futile debate about where rugby stands in comparison to GAA and soccer as ‘the people’s game’, Piarsaigh and Cuala deserve kudos for an epic joust in what was most certainly not hurling weather.

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