What a difference a year makes for the Rebels!

What a difference a year makes for the Rebels!
Cork before the game. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

ONE year ago to the day when Cork lost to Wexford in the All-Ireland qualifiers on a ground where they had so much success down through the ages, it could be said, without much fear of contradiction, that hurling was at a very low ebb throughout the county.

Fast forward to the events in the same stadium last Sunday and the difference was vast, Cork hurling had fully regained its place at the game’s top table and the outlook going into the latter months of the season is as bright as it has been for quite some time.

Cork’s history in the Munster championship is a rich one but, arguably, the title that was claimed last Sunday was as good if not better than any of those that had gone before it.

Despite a confidence-boosting win in the pre-season Munster League, which was very worthwhile for the younger players and a very decent run in the national league, there were still more questions than answers going into the white heat of a provincial campaign.

The draw did them no favours, in fact it was the draw from hell and to be successful in the month of July three massive summits had to negotiated.

You had to go into the home of the country’s best team, by far, for the opener and what we got that day was one of the most complete team performances that we have seen for a considerable length of time.

But still the questions remained, was this a one off, could it be repeated, maybe not to the same extent but still good enough to see off a Waterford team ranked well above them in the rankings.

Waterford were shocking on the day but Cork were efficient rather than spectacular in seeing them off which immediately had them installed as favourites for the final.

That posed another question, how would they cope with that tag given the fact that the only time they were favourites for anything this year was to be relegated from Division 1A NHL.

But now all the questions thus far have been answered and, alongside Galway, they have to be favourites for the All-Ireland.

That, of course, is based on the fact that both of them will be avoiding a potential minefield of a quarter-final.

Surely one of the main features of their three championship performances has been their consistency in splitting the posts with points.

They put 27 of them on the board against Tipperary, 23 against Waterford and 25 last Sunday.

That is an average of 25 per game and with that type of return you are never going to be far away at the final whistle.

Another feature of their performances has been the ability of different players to perform at the highest level on different days.

It has been a case of one doing it one day, another the next and last Sunday you had Alan Cadogan and Patrick Horgan sharing 1-17 between them, 0-13 for the Glen player and 1-4 for the Douglas man.

Alan Cadogan of Cork celebrates scoring a goal. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Alan Cadogan of Cork celebrates scoring a goal. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Horgan’s form has been superb in the three games and he is now the player that everyone wants him to be.

He was made to sit out a few league encounters earlier in the season but he has come back in a more focused player and some of his scores in the three games in Thurles has been a joy to behold.

His graph is certainly rising high now and all those who doubted him are getting their answers.

This fellow is a player of the highest quality and he will take on huge responsibility too as he did for the Glen in last season’s county final against Erins Own.

Conor Lehane, by the exceptional high standard that he had set, had a quiet game on Sunday but that’s alright too.

When you still win a Munster final by five points without one of your key players playing at the top of his game, that has to be a plus.

The Midleton man was starting on Sunday after coming back from a serious leg injury and be certain sure he’ll be back to his brilliant best come August 13th.

Over the course of the three championship games, if one was asked to select his or her player of that series, Mark Coleman’s name would have to be right at the forefront.

He has been ultra consistent in all three games and for one so young his coolness on the ball, his precision passing and ability to secure long-range points stands him out as the country’s best young hurler right now.

He is certainly the most exciting young talent to emerge in Cork hurling for quite some time.

Anthony Daly described Alan Cadogan as electric last Sunday and he was dead right. There is a cutting edge to this fellow’s play that is vital to this Cork team and against Clare he took a lot of punishment.

But on each occasion, he bounced back up and he, quite rightly, was selected as Man of the match.

In the aftermath of the game, selector Pat Hartnett spoke of unsung heroes on this Cork team and he surely he had Damien Cahalane in his thoughts with that statement.

This fellow has taken a lot of criticism from various quarters but that has only served to make him stronger.

There are stand-out moments from every game and Cahalane’s rampage out of defence in the game’s final moments might well have summed up Cork’s year up to now.

To be able to do that so late in the game told us everything you want to know about this lionhearted player.

The future, of course, is not ours to see but whatever it holds now the season will have to be recognised as a successful one.

Winning a Munster title from the low base that they came from represents a huge achievement in itself and what a difference July 9th 2017 was from July 9th 2016, the day that Wexford put Cork hurling into a very dark place.

But before every dawn comes the darkest hour and out of that darkness has come a light that shines brightly right now.

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