THERE were many notable things about Limerick’s surge to the All-Ireland SHC in 2020, not least the way that scores were shared out.
Against Clare and Tipperary in the Munster championship, the Shannonsiders had 11 different scorers on each occasion, while the provincial decider against Waterford, All-Ireland semi-final against Galway and rematch with the Déise in the final featured nine men on target each time.
Their top scorer was Aaron Gillane, registering 2-44 out of a tally of 3-141, exactly one-third. Gearóid Hegarty also scored more than once in each of their five games, Tom Morrissey and Diarmuid Byrnes did so four times and Graeme Mulcahy, Séamus Flanagan, Cian Lynch and Peter Casey each had three games where they notched multiple scores.
Gillane was the third highest scorer in the championship, with Hegarty eighth and Morrissey joint-ninth but no Limerick man featured in the top ten individual hauls for a single game and, ultimately, in the quest for an All-Ireland, that is more of a good thing than a bad thing – you don’t want to be overly reliant on a player and then unable to compensate if he has a bad day.
Limerick had 14 scorers in total in their five championship games and it might be something of a surprise to learn that Cork had 13 scorers across their three matches – Patrick Horgan, Shane Kingston, Séamus Harnedy, Bill Cooper, Conor Lehane, Christopher Joyce, Declan Dalton, Peter Cadogan, Robbie O’Flynn, Luke Meade, Jack O’Connor, Tim O’Mahony and Mark Coleman. Like the Treatymen, no Cork player was in the top ten for scores in a single game.
In 2019, Horgan featured four times in that ranking, topping it with his prodigious 3-10 in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kilkenny. Since 2011, the only year before 2020 where the Glen Rovers man wasn’t on such a list was in Cork’s disappointing 2015 campaign.
Maybe it’s more of a reflection of the increase in scoring output in hurling that Horgan picked off 1-8 twice last year – against Waterford and Dublin – and that wasn’t among the higher individual scores.
It shouldn’t be seen as a slight on Horgan that he accounts for so much of Cork’s attacking end product, but that any increases from elsewhere should assist him rather than take scores way from him.
Shane Kingston was third-highest with 0-9, while five of Cork’s 13 scorers – Joyce, Cadogan, Meade, O’Connor and O’Mahony – registered one point each.
With two of Cork’s baker’s dozen no longer part of the inter-county scene (Joyce and Lehane), the task for manager Kieran Kingston and his backroom team is increase the side’s scoring power to somewhere near Limerick’s average of 30 points per game, compared to Cork’s 25 (3-66 divided by three, yielding 1-22).
It’s perhaps not the most perceptive thing to say that a team needs to get more scores, just like the All-Ireland champions have been doing – especially as closed-season hurling analysis often tends to put the Liam MacCarthy holders on a pedestal from which they fall. Tipperary in 2010 and Clare in 2013 were hailed as being on the verge of dynasties, especially as they had allied their senior wins with U21 victories, and neither managed to sustain their excellence. Similarly, two years ago, all the talk was of Limerick and they did live up to it for much of 2019 until Kilkenny caught them.
However, apart from the Cats, you have to go back to Cork in 2004 and 2005 for the last county to have won two All-Irelands in as short a space of time as John Kiely’s side have done and the team’s age-profile would indicate that they will be challenging for the foreseeable future. With little or no weaknesses to their game, the challenge for everybody else is to try to match them.
For Cork, there is a chink of light from the as-yet-unfinished U20 grade. In the Munster semi-final against Limerick, which went to extra time 1-12 of Pat Ryan’s side’s tally of 2-29 over the 80 minutes came from players coming off the bench – something which Cork have struggled with at senior level in recent times – while there were nine scorers in total. While the Munster decider against Tipp the night before Christmas Eve didn’t have such dramatic statistics, nevertheless the sharing of 1-16 among seven players was another good sign.
With some of those players likely to be given their chance at senior in 2021, the hope will be that the scoring democratisation can improve.