IT was very much a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, where the Cork hurlers were concerned against Antrim.
No matter what their winning margin was, they were not going to make everybody happy. The gap was 11 points, a handsome victory at a venue which has proved tricky for visiting teams.
However, that tally in Cork’s favour was not reflective of how things had panned out for a good portion of the game. In fact, the opening 35 minutes belonged for the most part to Antrim and they were fully deserving of their one-point interval advantage.
Too many Cork players were off-colour in that opening period and offensively only Conor Lehane and Robbie O’Flynn could be happy with their showings. O’Flynn has really grown and is now surely one of the first names to be pencilled into the starting 15. Over the course of the 70 minutes, he delivered some excellent points and, alongside Lehane, he was Cork’s standout player.
The Cork management could not have been happy at the interval and it’s a certainty that a few harsh words were uttered.
Patrick Horgan hit an important brace of points but it was surprising that he wasn’t the first substitute to enter the fray after Shane Kingston’s early departure. Seamie Harnedy became much more influential after half-time while Darragh Fitzgibbon was consistent.
Cork got the job done as expected, Antrim giving as good as they got for 35 or 40 minutes, but eventually, the gulf in class saw Cork turning the screw coming down the home stretch. There was still only five or six points in it with five or six minutes left but there was no real sense that a shock was going to transpire.
Antrim certainly made their contribution to the contest and departed this All-Ireland campaign with their heads held high after some very decent league outings which on other days might have yielded a greater dividend.
They secured the Joe McDonagh Cup which brings them back into Leinster next season and an opportunity to grow that bit more. They will have a couple of home games in that which will be relished by their very genuine supporters.
They will certainly need to be a lot more consistent and get a better return from a number of individuals.
At the end of the day, last Saturday was all about getting the job done and moving on in a championship that only now gets really serious when the bigger guns will prevail and the rest will be silenced.
Getting to the last six was is a minimum requirement for all the leading hurling counties. Waterford and Tipperary failed miserably in that mission but for the rest, it’s the real deal from now on with very little room for error.
If Cork were to be as lack-lustre against Galway as they were for long periods of the first half against Antrim they could find themselves chasing a game that might be very difficult to get back into.
But, look, after the early losses to Limerick and Clare, the Cork management and support base would have bitten your hand off to be where they are now. They're on a winning run of three games and have a fair bit of momentum.
Sport being what it is, games like Cork-Antrim contain a lot of risk. You have everything to lose and very little to gain because everybody expects only one outcome.
Thoughts will now turn to the team selection for next weekend and the obvious question is do you start Patrick Horgan or keep him in reserve again? The two points that he secured following his introduction illustrated that once he gets on the ball, nine times out of 10 a score will follow. His very presence alone can unsettle opponents.
So, the stage is now set for a potential blockbuster of a programme in Thurles next weekend, Cork and Galway opening the proceedings with Clare and Wexford to follow and Limerick and Kilkenny keeping the closest of eyes on the proceedings.
And whoever emerges should be in fine fettle for Croke Park a fortnight later.