Key issues facing the Cork hurlers after the league

Derek Daly reflects on Cork's disappointing loss to Kilkenny at Nowlan Park after an otherwise productive spring
Key issues facing the Cork hurlers after the league

Kilkenny’s Alan Murphy and Ciarán Joyce of Cork in action at Nowlan Park. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

CORK'S wait for a National Hurling League title will now slip beyond the quarter of a century mark due to their 2-22 to 0-22 semi-final defeat to Kilkenny at Nowlan Park on Sunday afternoon.

The 1998 victory over Waterford, when current Cork manager Pat Ryan banged over a brace of points in the seven-point triumph, remains Cork’s last league victory. Come next year that will be 26 long years ago.

The key period of Sunday’s encounter was the section between minutes 45 and 50 where Cork conceded a goal from a penalty that should not have been conceded, and suffered a red card to Eoin Downey, which effectively ended the match as a contest.

The score had been 1-14 to 0-14 when the penalty had been given away. It was 100% a penalty, and Damien Cahalane could have seen red given his hurley struck the helmet of Billy Drennan. 

The real issue from a Cork perspective was the dreadful positioning of the defenders that left Drennan a free run on the Cork goal. 

Drennan had gained possession from a ruck, yet no Cork defender had deemed it worthwhile to position themselves between the ruck and their own goal in case a Kilkenny forward were to gain possession, which, of course, is exactly what happened. You’d be tearing your hair out if juvenile backs did likewise.

The sending-off came around four minutes after the penalty hit the back of the Cork net. The TV replays suggested there was indeed a striking action, so no complaints there. 

A word to any aspiring referees though – when you award a team a free do not turn your back and run 40 yards away while the team that conceded the free try to stop a quick free being taken. Decisive refereeing there would have simply marched Kilkenny back 14 yards and would have prevented the schmozzle that ensued. 

Unfortunately, Eoin Downey now misses the Munster Championship opener against Waterford as a result.

Up to the penalty and the sending off Cork were right in the game, although they had been struggling to make the ball stick up front, meaning their attackers were feeding off scraps.

Given the profile of Cork’s injured list, it was no surprise that Cork struggled to win much of the direct ball that was sent into the full-forward line. Pádraig Power did manage to get his paws on some long ball in the first half, but Shane Kingston and Jack O’Connor were unable to win much ball sent in their direction. 

Despite this Cork managed to win five out of 11 long puck-outs from Patrick Collins in the first half, which was a reasonable return.


Some of Cork’s long deliveries were not exactly of the measured variety either, with a few going directly to unmarked Kilkenny defenders. This is an area that will require a considerable amount of work prior to the championship.

The Cork full-back line did not look entirely comfortable with a number of high balls that Kilkenny lobbed in on top of them. They might not have mined any goals from these deliveries, but you imagine that Davy Fitzgerald will have taken notice and will be looking to feed the dangerous Michael Kiely close to the Cork goal in the championship opener on April 30.

There were positives. 

Cork’s Tommy O’Connell was one of the better performers on Sunday at Nowlan Park. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Cork’s Tommy O’Connell was one of the better performers on Sunday at Nowlan Park. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

In the first half, Tommy O’Connell was a ball magnet, getting on the world of ball, while on the other wing, Robert Downey was arguably Cork’s best player over the 70 minutes. Up front, Cork never really looked like raising a green flag, but Shane Barrett, Conor Cahalane and Power all had their moments. 

You would certainly expect there to be a number of changes in the attacking sector for the Waterford game, as quite simply, more work-rate and ball-winning ability is required up top.

With 15 minutes to go Kilkenny led by eight and you actually feared that they might pull away and win by 12 or 13, but to their credit, Cork kept plugging away. Losing by only six ended up almost as a surprise.

In saying that, it was a bad day at the office for some of Cork’s players. Pat Ryan now has some serious decisions to make with regards key positions such as goalkeeper and centre-forward. Cork’s season could sink or swim depending on which way these decisions go.

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