John Horgan: Cork refs must allow more physicality in club hurling

After a disappointing exit by Midleton in the Munster championship, it's clear Cork hurling isn't compatible with the wider version of the game
John Horgan: Cork refs must allow more physicality in club hurling

Midleton's Seamus O'Farrell and Aaron Costello of Kilmallock battle for the ball in the Munster semi-final. Picture: INPHO/Ben Whitley

COURCEY ROVERS and Ballygiblin kept the Cork flag flying in the Munster club hurling arena, the Ballinspittle team qualifying for the intermediate final in early January and the Avondhu champions doing likewise in the junior championship.

In both cases, the Christmas festivities will be curtailed, as they prepare for one of the biggest days in their history, but they won’t be bothered by that.

The junior final has a fascinating appeal, because in the opposite corner to Ballygiblin will be Skeheenarinky, the Tipperary champions, who are just a couple miles away from their Cork opponents.

The teams might be from two different counties, but this is going to be a local derby and in that part of the world the festive period will be dominated by that showdown.

Courceys and Ballygiblin were the two good news stories for the county last weekend.

Darragh Flynn fires a free for Ballygiblin. Picture: Larry Cummins. 
Darragh Flynn fires a free for Ballygiblin. Picture: Larry Cummins. 

Not so, however, for Midleton in the senior club championship: The Cork champions were well beaten by Limerick’s best, from Kilmallock, and there could be no complaints. The result extended Cork’s desperately poor record over the past number of years in this competition and not since Newtownshandrum in 2009 has a Cork club team managed success at this level.

Four teams — Sarsfields, on three occasions, Midleton, twice, Glen Rovers, three times and Blackrock, once — have all tried and failed in this prestigious competition, in stark contrast to the 1970s and 1980s, when the Cork champions from the big three of the Glen, Rockies, and ‘Barrs were hugely successful.

Midleton will be disappointed with how they allowed Kilmallock to dictate matters in the Gaelic Grounds last Sunday and it was another illustration of the superiority that Limerick hurling enjoys over Cork right now.

Similar to Ballygunner in Waterford, who defeated Loughmore-Castleiney in the other semi-final last weekend, Kilmallock had to wait seven weeks since they triumphed on Shannonside, but that mattered little, as their dominance over Midleton was evident from the outset.

To be fair to Midleton, they stayed at it right to the end, but the game was a lost cause from very early out and a paltry return of just three points in the opening half illustrated that.

In many ways, Kilmallock’s approach last Sunday was very similar to what we saw from Limerick in their victories over Cork in the national league and in the All-Ireland final.

Their physicality, aggression on the ball, and almost non-stop pressure made it very difficult for Midleton.

Those aspects of the game are fast becoming the trademark of Limerick hurling and until that is counteracted, Cork hurling and the rest will struggle to overcome them.

So why are Cork senior club teams not making the desired impact anymore on the provincial and national stage?

Former Limerick star Mark Foley made an interesting observation to Denis Walsh in The Sunday Times last week.

“You could write a thesis on it," he said. "One of the theories is that it does not suit Cork teams playing deep into the year when the game is a bit more physical.

“Cork clubs were not playing a game that was conducive to winter conditions.

On top of that, the game was being reffed differently in Cork to almost every other county. For a long number of years, it was almost a non-contact sport.

“You’d pick up a paper on Monday to read the club reports and it was just littered with frees. For Cork clubs, it was a completely different game when they came out of Cork."

Foley, who managed Charleville this year in the Cork SHC, believes that has started to change and that it will change over the next few years.

“The refs are letting a bit more go, the players Cork are starting to produce now are more physical, and getting to deal better with hardship,’’ he said.

VITAL

Interesting words indeed and that has to continue if Cork hurling is to match Limerick and the likes of Limerick club teams.

Midleton were fully deserving of their victory in the Cork County Premier SHC this year but found out that it’s a much-changed story when you go outside the county.

Midleton's Sean O'Leary Hayes was left frustrated in Limerick. Picture: INPHO/Ben Whitley
Midleton's Sean O'Leary Hayes was left frustrated in Limerick. Picture: INPHO/Ben Whitley

Now the stage is set for one almighty battle after Christmas when Kilmallock and Ballygunner collide.

This will be a huge physical battle, among other things, one to look forward to, but for Cork clubs, it will be another case of being on the outside looking in.

But that’s something we are well used to now and it’s hard to believe that since Midleton won the provincial crown in 1987 and subsequently the All-Ireland in that campaign, only one Cork team, Newtownshandrum, has been successful in the 34 years that have followed.

That team won the Munster club three times and added one All-Ireland. But the plate has been very bare since then and that has to change going forward.

Of course, in that 34 years, a number of divisional sides have won the county title, Imokilly on five occasions, including the more recent three on the trot.

If divisional sides were able to compete in the provincial arena, how would they get on?

Maybe that’s a ridiculous question, as that can’t ever be the case, but one wonders all the same.

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