Analysis: Cork hurlers look built for Croker, we'll find out against Kilkenny

Rebels were too slick and pacy for Dublin in a 2-26 to 0-24 win, but the big test awaits on Jones Road
Analysis: Cork hurlers look built for Croker, we'll find out against Kilkenny

Jack O'Connor of Cork in action against James Madden of Dublin at Semple Stadium. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

WITH their speed, eye for goal and youth, the hope is this Cork team is built for Croke Park.

We'll now find out next Sunday against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. After consecutive victories over Clare and Dublin, when the pressure was on as favourites, Cork have nothing to fear. 

Rank outsiders before the season, they're free to head up the country full of confidence and purpose next weekend.

Yes, Jones Road has been a graveyard for Rebel sides in the modern era, without a championship win there since 2013. The last trip to GAA headquarters was a loss to the Cats two summers ago of course.

However, this is a significantly reshaped team. Shane Barrett and Alan Connolly have added a spark from the bench, while Ger Millerick, Conor Cahalane and Jack O'Connor made telling contributions at Semple Stadium on Saturday.

Tim O'Mahony was a second-half sub in the 2019 quarter-final against Kilkenny. He was a colossus here. A scorer of 1-1 from defence but also a beast in the air and the tackle. 

Along with Robert Downey, dominant again in the full-back line, O'Mahony's size will be essential about Kilkenny's aggression and power.

The veteran forwards Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan was superb as well as the rookies. Harnedy with his 0-4 from play and three assists, was a real leader; Horgan sliced over three play and converted every placed ball. Quite the contrast to his uncharacteristic display in the Munster-final against Limerick.

Cork's Patrick Horgan takes a free. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Cork's Patrick Horgan takes a free. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Every single Rebel left it all on the pitch, even the likes of Shane Kingston and Darragh Fitzgibbon, who weren't at their best, especially Kingston. Niall O'Leary was crisp and tidy in everything he did and added a late point for good measure. Sean O'Donoghue continues to excel.

Luke Meade was the vital cog again in midfield and was also fouled for two Horgan frees.

When Dublin came at Cork in the last 10 minutes, rattling over four on the bounce to trim the gap 2-22 to 0-24. The Rebels hit the last four scores, O'Connor getting fouled when Cork were desperate to break the momentum, while O'Mahony secured a Dublin puck-out from the clouds. 

In the third quarter, Cork were probably guilty of too many fancy passes. When they came off, like Harnedy releasing Horgan out wide for an outrageous point, they were joyous. But ultimately, Dublin outscored Cork 0-8 to 0-7. 

The Rebels need to be that bit more direct, more ruthless, in the fourth quarter but this was their second knockout joust in eight days. And the Clare game was in sweltering conditions.

MAGIC MOMENT

The first half was lit up by Tim O'Mahony's goal.

It was something special. The sort of swashbuckling run and finish kids imagine when they're pucking balls out the back garden. Off from the halfway line... the crowd holds its breath, then erupts as the sliotar hits the net. 

Wing-backs aren't supposed to do that, but the Newtown giant was only following on from Kyle Hayes in the Munster championship.

Cork needed a goal at that juncture to get Dublin firmly on the back foot, given Jack O'Connor had hit the post and Robbie O'Flynn was denied by Alan Nolan in the opening exchanges.

O'Flynn's work in picking up a break on a Dublin puck-out and surfing three tackles to send O'Mahony off on his rampaging run shouldn't be underestimated by the way. 

The Dubs were getting joy in the first 15 minutes from flooding bodies between the 65s and using Ronan Hayes as a target man, while Donal Burke was a threat from range. Patrick Collins and Rob Downey had to be alert to deny the Dubs a goal of their own.

That first goal gave a real injection into the Cork supporters and team. The Rebel faithful, vastly outnumbering the Boys in Blue, began to find their voice and after the water-break O'Flynn and Seamus Harnedy were able to collect puck-outs out wide on the run. By half-time, they'd 0-5 between them, with O'Flynn also assisting the second goal, albeit after Horgan was foiled and Shane Kingston drilled the loose ball home.'

It was a score Kingston badly needed, as he couldn't settle into the flow of the game at all in the opening 35 minutes. 

Mark Coleman was mopping up all the breaks around the Cork rearguard, afforded far more room to operate in than he had been against Limerick and Clare. 

It was a bizarre approach from Mattie Kenny's side, given Coleman was Man of the Match in the qualifier last winter.

Conor Cahalane of Cork passes the ball as referee James Owens signals for play to continue. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Conor Cahalane of Cork passes the ball as referee James Owens signals for play to continue. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Conor Cahalane fully justified the selectors' decision to start him ahead of rookies Barrett and Connolly. Wearing 10 he was deployed in midfield and added needed steel to the sector, while also arrowing a lovely point. 

There's a fine balance to the team at this stage and the introduction of Colm Spillane late on is a boost.

It'll all be fully tested by Kilkenny now.

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