WE hear it time and time again, ‘the margins at the top level are so small’.
More often than not, you listen to somebody dole out a cliché like that and raise your eyes to the heavens. However, it is a true statement all the same and it certainly applies to Cork’s Munster SHC adventure thus far.
Jake Morris pounces on Cork defensive indecision and Tipp deny John Meyler’s side victory in Thurles. Kyle Hayes pops up in added-time at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday evening to raise a white flag earning Limerick a deserved point for their exploits.
Small margins. Major implications.
Instead of Cork being essentially guaranteed a place in the provincial final having edged to success in both of those winnable fixtures, Meyler’s men remain in a cauldron of uncertainty with Waterford to come in their final group match.
If we have learned anything from the Leesiders’ last two matches, it is they have more learning to do in terms of understanding how to see games out when they are in the ascendancy.
And that, given the age profile of the squad, is perfectly acceptable. Yet, at times, in all three of the encounters Cork contested against Clare, Tipp and Limerick, they were borderline unplayable.
Therefore, there is much to look forward to this summer and next. However, the unfortunate fact is there is still plenty of work to do despite the absolute brilliance the team has displayed in each of those three games.
If, say, this panel was another year down the road, certainly from a defensive point of view, it is likely six points would be on the Munster SHC board as it is.
The experience the group are accruing all of the time would have to lead you to believe there is a rich harvest over the horizon.
Of course, a number of players in the side have been knocking about for a few years now.
Yet, just as many are still shaping their senior inter-county identities.
With that in mind, it bodes well that the words ‘unplayable at times’ can be used while referring to this Cork unit.
The work Kieran Kingston and his management team put in is developing in menacing fashion by Meyler and his selectors. In saying that, commentators do have a valid point when they suggest the Rebels come under intense pressure when the opposition focus on closing down Anthony Nash’s restarts.
Cork are understandably nurturing their main gameplan.
Yet, they also need to ensure work on a Plans B and C are fine-tuned. Obviously, Meyler and co will have their Plans B and C in place, but there was a hint Cork’s structure suffered after Tipp and Limerick pressed up on Nash’s outfield options from his puck-outs.
Meyler, though, like Kingston, is doing a cracking job to date.
And it is extremely difficult to not be really encouraged by what we have witnessed in this campaign.
However, it is good that people are appreciating the need for patience as we revel in watching this team evolve. On the evidence presented in the last number of weeks, it would seem Galway, particularly because of how strong they are defensively, are correctly seen as the most likely side to win the All-Ireland again this year.
After that, I still believe Tipp would be the best-equipped outfit to beat the Tribesmen at this point in time, in a knockout match scenario. Nevertheless, on potential, you could say both Cork and Limerick are just behind that pairing and are moving in the right direction.
Earlier in the year, I proffered that if John Kiely’s charges finally found a route out of Division 1B that it would fuel their assault on the provincial and All-Ireland series to the degree we would see the best of them. That is certainly the case and they are, as expected on the back of that promotion, more of a threat than they were perceived to be in previous campaigns.
If there is one team this new format is suiting it is Limerick due to the fact Kiely has assembled a youthful shape to their squad. The more games they contest, the better they will be and Limerick are definitely in the honours mix.
And what of Waterford? People have credited Derek McGrath for keeping his counsel after Tipp were bizarrely awarded a goal that clearly never was in the Gaelic Grounds.
Indeed, kudos McGrath. However, the Déise supremo also probably realised the umpires and referee were not totally to blame for Waterford failing to win the match.
Waterford were, after all, 11 points in front of the Premier with 16 minutes of regulation-time remaining and, of course, were playing 14 men. Is there really any excuse for coughing up a lead that great, especially in the circumstances?
Obviously, the ghost ‘goal’ had a major impact on the eventual outcome. Yet, it would be wrong of people to state that was the only or primary reason Waterford did not go on to clinch the two group points on offer.
Just as Cork should really have seen off Tipp in Semple Stadium given the cushion the Rebels had generated, McGrath’s outfit, having put themselves in an even stronger position for the closing quarter, really have no excuse for not finishing Tipp off when they had the opportunity to do so.
It reminded us of the salient and realistic fact Waterford do not possess the killer instinct required by teams with All-Ireland aspirations. And this has been a long-term problem for them if people are to be completely honest.