There is a Latin phrase which does well to sum up how susceptible human beings are to confirmation bias.
‘Post hoc, ergo propter hoc’ translates as ‘After this, therefore because of this,’ – we know that two things have happened in order so we assume that one caused the other. Sometimes it’s correct but sometimes it’s mere false equivalence.
In a sporting sense, we think back to Steve Bould’s appointment as Arsenal assistant manager in 2012. Arsène Wenger always focused more on putting the ball in the net rather than not conceding but when they started the Premier League season with three straight clean sheets, Bould’s influence was hailed. The fact that two of these games were scoreless draws with Sunderland and Stoke was somewhat overlooked and soon enough normal service was restored.
Right now, we have a Cork hurling team that has enjoyed a positive start to the Allianz Hurling League, winning at home to Waterford and then drawing with Tipperary in Thurles on Saturday night. It is a Cork set-up that has had former manager Donal O’Grady added to it since last year, so naturally the leap made is that the St Finbarr’s man has had a seismic impact.
Back in January, Tom Kenny – who played under O’Grady for Cork – spoke to The Echo about what he would bring as part of Kieran Kingston’s backroom team.
“Kieran clearly regards him highly in terms of his ways, his means, his methods and his ideas on the game, which are a constant,” he said.
“The skills such as hooking, blocking, tackling and positional play haven’t changed in terms of how they’re done. Hooking and blocking are still the same now as they were 30 or 40 years ago.
“Those skills are still as relevant now as they were back then and he’ll improve the defensive qualities of the players that are there and get them to understand how A, B and C link together, as opposed to just playing your own position.”
Certainly, it seems as if there is a big improvement in Cork’s defending from the front. Shane Kingston’s goal against Waterford and Patrick Horgan’s against Tipp were two prime examples of attacking players pressuring defensive opponents to force turnovers from which Cork profited. On Saturday, Darragh Fitzgibbon got in the initial block and was then able to receive the ball from Luke Meade before feeding Horgan.
There were other, less eye-catching instance that were no less effective – Tim O’Mahony’s point just before half-time came when Alan Cadogan did well to get in a block. In the second half, O'Mahony got his hurley in to allow Tadhg Deasy set up Conor Cahalane for his first point. It can’t be coincidence that there is an uptick in these areas after O’Grady has come on board, but equally they are part of a wider improvement rather than constituting the only positive changes.
The goalscoring has caught the eye, naturally, and there is no reason why that approach should change but it should not be overlooked how Cork have had a better opportunity to prepare for 2021 as against the 2020 championship.
The club championships running late meant that there was always a sense of catch-up but a gap that couldn’t be bridged; this time, players were fit and ready for hurling as soon as the go-ahead was given. Having a stronger fitness base means that a better workrate can result.
Just as impressive was Cork’s shooting efficiency in the second half, when they were on the back foot for periods. From 11 shots, Cork scored 1-8, with the two wides coming from halfway or further back.
Against that was a fairly profligate first half, with seven point-attempts sent wide, as well as Jack O’Connor’s goal chance, but it was encouraging that such a state of affairs was something that could be overcome.
Of course, it is a small sample size and any conclusions drawn even at the end of the league will be considered provisional until people see how Cork do against Limerick in the Munster championship.
Things aren’t perfect – the tackling could be better and sharper Tipp dead-ball shooting would have punished Cork on Saturday – but the trends are heading in the right direction.