WHEN reflecting on any championship season, there is always the tendency to dwell on the final game more than what had gone on prior to that.
At this point in time, Cork’s defeat by Waterford will command all the attention and the excellence of the Munster campaign will be forgotten for a while.
That’s the nature of the world that we live in.
Cork had a terrific run through the province and some of us might have thought we’d never see a bad day again. Kilkenny and Tipperary had departed the scene and the All-Ireland race was as wide open as it had been for quite some time.
However, on every journey, there is always a pothole or two to get around, getting from A to B is never as simple as it might seem. Cork hit one of those potholes last Sunday and the vehicle that had run fairly smoothly prior to that punctured.
In brutal terms, Cork had a very poor day at the office and too many players did not reach the heights previously set.
However, you can come out on the right side too on days like this and with 13 minutes remaining, despite the dismissal of Damien Cahalane, Cork had constructed a two-point advantage following a brace of scores from their best player, Patrick Horgan.
We wondered would the sending off work in their favour as it has done in the past for some teams? A team galvanising itself to a greater degree in the face of adversity.
It wasn’t the case this time and what followed was a complete takeover by Waterford that Cork simply had no answer to. The red card was a factor, of course, it was, losing a man in a game of such magnitude has to be a negative.
Just look at the damning statistic following the loss of a man, Waterford put up 3-8 in the time remaining as against 0-5 for Cork. But that was not the reason Cork lost this game, on the day they never really got going to the extent they had been before.
In the opening half they were almost solely dependent on Horgan to secure scores and seven of their nine point tally came off his stick. Waterford shot nine wides in that half and Cork had to be quite satisfied to be just a point in arrears at that juncture.
Not having played particularly well and to be just a point behind was not a bad place to be at all. It remained a nip and tuck affair until that closing quarter when the Cork house finally crumbled.
Following any defeat in any game there will be inevitable criticism, some of it justified, a lot of it not.
You could criticise a lot of aspects of Cork’s play last Sunday, be critical of individuals too but, at the end of the day, when push came to shove Waterford had the heavier artillery and were deserving winners, a point quickly acknowledged by the Cork management afterwards. This was a new look Cork team in many ways, a team not as streetwise in Croke Park as Waterford are.
That was a factor and more so than the five-week break since Cork’s Munster final win over Clare. You could point to that but it worked in Tipperary’s favour 12 months ago when they went through the championship year unbeaten.
Waterford just looked more comfortable in the Croke Park setting of an All-Ireland day and, let’s face it, the one point advantage that Waterford had at the break should have been a lot more after their nine wides.
So, for now, the story ends and it will be six months before this Cork squad and maybe a number of additions re-appear.
The pre-season Munster League worked well this year and the national league served its purpose too.
Right now, coming out of the minefield that was the Munster championship again might not look as great as it did on that Sunday in Thurles but that achievement, given the base the county was at, should not be diluted in any way, it was a superb triumph. It would have been a monumental effort to have travelled the full distance to the podium in the Hogan Stand in September but the likelihood was probably greater that they would not in their first emerging season.
The most important aspect of the journey is that Cork have emerged as a serious hurling force again and there’s no reason why the platform that has been built this year cannot be built on further.
The big positives would have to be the return from Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon while Shane Kingston and Luke Meade will benefit enormously too from the campaign.
Patrick Horgan sealed his All-Star on Sunday and he’s been a real breath of fresh over the past few months. He started on the bench in a few league games and maybe that was the turning point in his emergence as Cork’s best player of the championship.
As stated, he’s a certain All-Star and, whilst Sunday wasn’t his best outing, Mark Coleman must get one too given the part that he played in a very tough Munster campaign.
The All-Stars are based very much on what happens in the two All-Ireland semi-finals and final and now because of that, a few Cork players may drop down the pecking order.
There will be no shortage of nominations, Anthony Nash, Alan Cadogan, Damien Cahalane, his sending off on Sunday, might be a factor and Conor Lehane. The tendency has been to give the bulk of the awards to the two finalists so on that basis it will probably be just two for Cork.
Finally, this week. Cork’s defeat on Sunday means that the county will now be at least 13 years without a visit from the McCarthy Cup, the second longest barren spell from the years 1903 to 1919.
The last barren spell was from ‘54 to ‘66.