Cork fans wonder what the next step is after failing to fire again in Thurles

An awful start left the Rebels in big trouble against Galway and after an All-Ireland quarter-final exit big changes are inevitable
Cork fans wonder what the next step is after failing to fire again in Thurles

Cork’s Damien Cahalane dejected after the loss. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

MAKE no mistake about it, that was one of the most disappointing losses by the Cork hurlers in recent years.

They weren't beaten by a Galway side hurling up a storm. They exited the All-Ireland series on a real low having saved their season by securing a gritty victory over Waterford down in Walsh Park and following up with wins over Tipp and Antrim.

This seems like an awful waste. A hammer blow really, the summer after Cork lifted U20 and minor All-Irelands.

No one had Cork marked as All-Ireland champions in waiting but they expected them to compete with the same focus and intensity as they had in recent outings. They certainly didn't, at least not for enough of this quarter-final.

Instead, Kieran Kingston's side were stuck to the ground in the first half, on the back foot after a flukey goal in the opening play by Jack Grealish, and were never able to reel in the Tribe. They battled back impressively, subs Patrick Horgan, Jack O'Connor, Ger Millerick and Alan Cadogan, with his 0-3 from play, all adding energy and drive.

The bottom line though was they always trailed. Galway horsed Cork out of it and slipped over inspirational points at key stages in the second half when it looked like the momentum was with the Rebels. 

Robbie O'Flynn, Ciarán Joyce, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Luke Meade were the pick of the starting 15 and Shane Kingston pounced for a goal after a delightful pick-up. Otherwise, Cork couldn't hurl to their limits and fell short against a side that gave it everything but didn't especially impress themselves outside of that work-rate and commitment. 

Galway might perform better when they return to Jones Road to face Limerick but Cork weren't knocked out by contenders for Liam MacCarthy, that's for sure.

It was Cork's fifth championship loss in a row to Galway and of all of those matches, the one they certainly should won. The Rebel faithful might love coming to Thurles but this was the fourth defeat from the last seven games at Semple Stadium since lifting the Munster title in 2018. Add in the league final loss this spring for good measure. A grim stat.

Cork left a staggering 3-11 behind them in the first half on this occasion. You're never going to convert every opportunity the missed frees and fluffed goal chances were hugely frustrating.  

O'Flynn's rasping drive was a decent effort, if a bit far out, but Alan Connolly and Fitzgibbon needed to take another couple of steps and hit their shots with venom. Skewing placed balls wide only added to the sense of dread for fans.

It was all the more galling when Galway's goals were utterly preventable, a long-range point attempt that deceived Patrick Collins and a well-taken Conor Whelan shot that still could have been cut out by Seán O'Donoghue.

Meade was doing a terrific job sweeping from midfield and Joyce was a beast at number six, plucking puck-outs through traffic and breaking tackles, belying his status as a rookie. Yet Cork weren't clicking and supporters had every right to be alarmed. 

Galway were absolutely thrilled to be leading five because they knew how insipid and flat the game was. It was as ugly a half of hurling as you'd see at the top level. The second period was more engaging but what consolation is that to Leesiders?

The All-Ireland finalists from last year who couldn't even get back to Croke Park.

Cork's Darragh Fitzgibbon is congratulated by manager Kieran Kingston after scoring a point. Picture: INPHO/Tom Maher
Cork's Darragh Fitzgibbon is congratulated by manager Kieran Kingston after scoring a point. Picture: INPHO/Tom Maher

Where do Cork go from here? 

Kingston's official three-year term is up.

Of the veterans, Seamus Harnedy struggled but had been brilliant at times this summer while Patrick Horgan, 35 next May, was decent off the bench in his 71st championship outing. Damien Cahalane and Conor Lehane are also in their 30s.

Regardless, there will have to be a few fresh faces and a tactical change.

Yet even if more U20s are brought through, there's no quick fix on the horizon. The long wait for a senior All-Ireland drags into an 18th year.

SCORERS 2022:

Championship:

Patrick Horgan 0-34 (0-23 f, 0-3 65); Conor Lehane 1-25 (1-0 pen, 0-6 f, 0-1 65); Darragh Fitzgibbon 3-9; Robbie O’Flynn 0-17; Alan Connolly 4-4; Seamus Harnedy 1-13;  Shane Kingston 2-10 (0-1 f); Tim O'Mahony 1-3; Mark Coleman 0-9 (0-4 f, 0-1 65); Alan Cadogan 0-3, Shane Barrett, Jack O'Connor, Luke Meade 0-2; Pa Collins, Damien Cahalane, Conor Cahalane 0-1 each.

League:

Patrick Horgan 1-41 (0-32 f, 0-2 65); Shane Kingston 4-24 (0-14 f, 0-1 65); Conor Lehane 1-19 (0-6 f); Darragh Fitzgibbon 2-13; Mark Coleman 0-13 (0-8 f); Robbie O'Flynn 1-10; Shane Barrett 0-9; Alan Connolly, Tim O’Mahony 1-5; Seamus Harnedy 0-7; Ciarán Joyce 0-6 (0-1 65); Luke Meade 1-2; Rob Downey 0-3; Jack O'Connor, Mark Keane 0-2; Ger Millerick, Conor Cahalane, Colin O’Brien, Sam Quirke, Alan Cadogan, Padraig Power 0-1.

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