Cork hurling: Confidence brewed last year goes off the boil in summer to forget

Rebels suffered disappointment across the board, minor, U20 and senior, after the highs of 2021
Cork hurling: Confidence brewed last year goes off the boil in summer to forget

Galway manager Henry Shefflin with Ciarán Joyce of Cork last Saturday. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

2021 was a great year for Cork hurling, with three underage titles garnered, if you include the delayed 2020 U20 All-Ireland final, as well as the fact that the seniors reached the All-Ireland final, and as a consequence there was great hope that Cork would kick on in 2022. 

The reality, however, has brought that hope and expectation crashing down to Earth, with the year being a complete washout for Cork’s inter-county teams.

It is not just All-Ireland success that Cork hurling followers measure progress against. 

Factors such as tactics, approach, aggression, composure and intensity are also key barometers, and in these measuring sticks, Cork went backwards in 2022.

At minor level, the 2021 vintage were always going to be nigh on impossible to follow given how they despatched all-comers with composite ease in their run to All-Ireland glory. 

Having only Cobh’s Timmy Wilk as a survivor from that first 15 meant that a repeat was always going to be a tall order.

Cork's Timmy Wilk in action. Picture: Don MacMonagle
Cork's Timmy Wilk in action. Picture: Don MacMonagle

They had kicked off with a 3-25 to 0-11 win over Kerry in Austin Stack Park in early April, but when, a week later, they destroyed Limerick to the tune of 4-21 to 2-14 suddenly expectation levels that Paudie Murray’s charges could go far in this championship rose. 

Na Piarsaigh attacker Ross O’Sullivan had contributed to the previous year’s triumph, albeit off the bench, but he really sparkled that evening against Limerick, pilfering 3-9 in the triumph.

Confidence levels would have been high when they hosted Clare at Páirc Uí Rinn in the semi-final. 

It was the crunch tie of the year in many respects, as victory would not have only garnered Munster final qualification but it would also have guaranteed a backdoor route to the All-Ireland series.  For the loser, however, it was going to be game over, so the stakes were high.

Cork never really got going on the night, trailing by six points early on, and even though they did fight back to level the tie by halftime, they never led. 

The 21 wides they struck on the night sucked the life out of the team and even though they got it back to within three late on they couldn’t muster an equaliser.

Ross O’Sullivan did force a save from the Clare goalkeeper late on that would have forced extra time, but it was not to be, and most certainly one of those that got away.

U20 FRUSTRATION

The U20s campaign was arguably more frustrating given that the team was littered with players with previous U20 and minor All-Ireland medals in their pockets. 

Cork were going for three-in-a-row at this grade and would have been considered to be one of the favourites.

In their opening game, they performed poorly up in Sixmilebridge, but managed to score the last four points of the game to come out on top against Clare by two.

This set up a second game against Limerick, which due to the fact that both sides had already beaten Clare meant that both were already through to the Munster semi-finals. 

Therefore, there was no blood in the tie and it looked that way from a Cork perspective as they were very much second best to Limerick on the night, with Limerick scoring seven points in a row late in the second half and being able to keep Cork at arm's length from there on in.

This set up a semi-final against Tipperary and despite a number of changes the Rebels were extremely flat in the first half as they went in trailing 2-12 to 0-9 at the break. 

They did fight back to get within two points by the final whistle but the damage had been done. Their year was over.

SENIOR SETBACK

The seniors were also looking to kick on from their 2021 effort. 

They had not really fired a shot in their All-Ireland defeat to Limerick last August, but despite this, getting to the final was progress nonetheless.

When they reached the league final early this year everything looked to be moving in the right direction, only for a mauling at the hands of Waterford to leave them licking more wounds. One step forward and two back.

They quickly entered Munster Championship combat where they lost to both Limerick and Clare in poor fashion, before potentially reinvigorating their year with a revenge win over Waterford in Walsh Park.

They followed this up with a thrashing of lowly Tipperary before seeing off Antrim last week in Belfast.

And then came Saturday’s clash with Galway, where despite being the dominant side conspired to shoot themselves in the foot with sloppy goals concessions and a series of poor wides.

Roll on 2023.

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