MOMENTUM is a much-used word in the sporting world today and if one is going to use it where the Munster hurling final is concerned in a fortnight’s time, then Clare will have bagfuls of it.
Going into a final with a two-week break after defeating Tipperary and Limerick, the Banner County will be perfectly positioned to make amends for last year’s loss to the team that they will be facing that day.
The general consensus before the events of last Sunday was that Limerick and Cork would contest the final, Cork on the basis that Waterford had really nothing to play for and that Limerick were the form team going up against Clare. Well, half of that script was torn up when Clare battered Limerick in Cusack Park and Cork, one could suggest, got out of jail against Waterford.
Now, it’s Clare that people are talking about the most and their two wins over Tipp in Thurles and Limerick to the tune of 11 points on Sunday. John Meyler was quite correct in stating on Sunday that Cork’s win in the opening game of the championship would have little or no relevance in a fortnight’s time.
No two games are ever the same and you could have two starkly contrasting results from one week to the next in any sporting code. Look at the Irish rugby team in Melbourne last Saturday, the one or two changes to the starting 15 making all the difference to Joe Schmidt’s team.
Cork and Clare have done remarkably well to come out on the right side of what was a compelling Munster championship. The word minefield has been frequently used during the course of it and that is exactly what it was.
Before a ball was struck in anger, the five counties knew the score, three would survive into an extended summer and two would have that Summer terminated a few days after the middle of June. Limerick are probably mystified at their demise to Clare, especially the manner of it but they are still very much in the equation and have the players and the capacity to come back in through the back door.
Cork and Clare will want to make full use of the opportunity that has now been afforded them, a direct route into the All-Ireland semi-final without having to face a potentially huge task in a quarter-final. Cork had their knockers on Sunday in the aftermath of Thurles, very poor first-half, took too long to put away a Waterford team that had nothing really to play for.
Yes, they were lethargic in that opening half, yes they shot far too many wides over the course of the 70 plus minutes and a couple of players were not at the best. But the bottom line must be, they have completed the initial tasks that they were confronted with in being one of the three teams to come out of Munster and being one of the two to reach the final.
In doing so they have remained unbeaten and that is a great tribute to the team and management. They are still seeking more consistency within games, that was very much the case throughout the national league too but that’s very difficult for any team to do, to play right at the top of their game for the entire game.
But as we move deeper into the championship it has to be better. One of the strongest points of this Cork team has been their ability to finish well, something they did again on Sunday when they registered 1-4 in the final minutes.
That is a very strong trait in a team and the management must take a lot of credit for that. Maybe there was an element of complacency in the first-half last Sunday, not really knowing what Waterford were going to bring to the table if anything at all with no tangible reward for them no matter what the outcome was going to be.
That kind of thing can seep into players mindsets and as a result, it can bring problems. One has to remember that this Waterford team was in an All-Ireland final last September and deservedly so too.
They have proud players like every other county and lying down and dying was never going to be the case. That they really put it up to Cork is something that Cork might be very grateful for going forward.
They were in a battle, they had to find a way of getting through it and ultimately when they were put to the pin of their collar, they did.
One of the main reasons why they did was the industry of Bill Cooper in the second-half. He delivered three superb points when they were most needed. This fellow does not always get the credit he deserves but for honesty, work-rate, getting his hands dirty, he has few equals.
When Cork needed him last Sunday, he was not found wanting and his final delivery is getting better too.
Seamie Harnedy ended last Sunday with a haul of 1-3 from play and that’s damn good going. His goal was superbly invented and its execution was equal to the build-up.
Cork needed that goal so badly because up to that point it was looking like Waterford were going to rip the pre-match script asunder. It was very much a case of a captain leading by example in an hour of need.
This Cork team is still quite a bit off being the finished product, the first-half on Sunday will not be sufficient going forward and there’s still too much over-elaboration at times, not getting the ball away quickly enough, too much lateral passing that not getting you too far.
Options and decision making will be key issues in training for the Munster final. Iron out some of them and that path to Jones’ Road might become a lot clearer.