Confidence and craft carry the day

Dairmuid OSullivan

Cork 1-21 Galway 1-16
By Jim O’Sullivan, Croke Park
CALL it any way you like. But, when the Liam MacCarthy Cup was up for grabs in Croke Park yesterday it was Cork who had the wherewithal to embrace and retain it.

Make no mistake, it was Cork guile and craft, forged over a long and proud history of achievement in the Guinness All-Ireland SHC, that combined to make John Allen a winning manager in his first year, against a Galway side whose inexperience dragged them down.

And, it gave Fijian-born Seán Óg Ó hAilpín the honour of becoming the 30th Cork captain to lift the trophy after yet another inspirational display.

Arguably the most impressive feature of Cork’s victory was their strength of character in re-establishing an advantage in the third quarter. They were shaping like champions after 20 minutes and surged ahead after brave Galway promised a revival when Damien Hayes goaled in the 49th minute.

Crucially, however, Cork never lost their advantage on the scoreboard and when scores were needed in those final 10 minutes, they had the overall strength to create them, with man-of-the-match Ben O’Connor in particular giving the type of leadership he did as captain 12 months ago.

Cork began the game in confident mood, laying down an early marker in defence against a Galway attack that had scored almost at will in their semi-final win over Kilkenny. Ronan Curran produced his best game of the year, while behind him, Donal Óg Cusack was to exert a major influence.

It was 0-4 to 0-1 after just 10 minutes, during which time Brian Corcoran was rampant at full-forward. And, as the game developed Timmy McCarthy was contributing in a way that he hadn’t up to now, while Tom Kenny and Jerry O’Connor were winning the lion’s share of possession at midfield.

Overall, Cork were almost totally in control, with Ó hAilpín showing the drive and consistency which was to highlight his performance from start to finish. It wasn’t a surprise, then, to see them produce a goal in the 16th minute, coming from Ben O’Connor’s clinical finishing.

Cork were now six points in front and there were still no signs of Galway reproducing their semi-final form.

There was however, the continuing good form of Derek Hardiman at right half-back - Galway’s outstanding performer over the 70 minutes - and strong play from Alan Kerins at left half-forward. However, while he was to get three points against Gardiner (forcing a switch of wing-backs late in the second half), his finishing was not the best. Conversely, he might have had a goal immediately after O’Connor’s strike, only for Cusack bringing off a terrific save.

Other than that, Niall Healy hadn’t the craft to trouble Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Damien Hayes didn’t get enough ball to trouble the shrewd Pat Mulcahy and Ger Farragher’s main asset was his free-taking.

There was no appreciable change in the direction of the game until about 15 minutes from half time, by which time Galway had begun to make real progress. It started with a tightening of the defence, which saw former captain Ollie Canning excel in the left corner, Tony Óg Regan starting to come to terms with the threat from Corcoran and David Collins coming into his own at left-half.

Additionally, there was an improvement at midfield which saw David Tierney make a few strong runs.

Cork gave away frees which presented Farragher with two scores (one of them from a huge shot far out on the left wing) and saw the two midfielders each put over a score.

For the first time, Cork were beginning to struggle as a result of their lack of penetration in the half-forward line, the inability of Joe Deane to make any headway against Damien Joyce and Corcoran’s struggle to make space for himself.

Inaccuracy (producing seven wides up to the break) was another factor which lessened their influence and Galway finished the half in buoyant mood, trailing by two points, 1-9 to 0-10.

On the restart Cork quickly recovered their form with three points in a seven-minute period. The middle one came from Timmy McCarthy and the determined way he brushed past several defenders before shooting indicated the mood of the team and their confidence in meeting the Galway challenge.

It meant that Cork’s ability to pick off scores more easily than Galway, who had to work to create openings, gave them the confidence to hurl comfortably within themselves, without being put under serious pressure.

That self-belief also came through after Hayes put the ball in the net following another excellent save by Cusack, from Richie Murray.

The margin was now down to just a single point and the sense of renewed hope from Galway followers around the stadium was palpable.

The game was now at its most critical stage, when Galway were either going to continue their revival or the champions were going to draw on their reserves of confidence and craft. Essentially, the latter happened. Once again, they came out on top in defence - John Gardiner’s move to left half benefiting him, while Ó hAilpín was inspirational in everything he did and the marvellous leadership he provided.

Galway contributed to their own downfall through poor shooting and a disappointing response from Murray and Forde in the half-forward line.

The advantage from the back gradually moved forward, eliciting excellent play once more from Kenny and Jerry O’Connor, who put valuable scores on the board.

Cork scored six points to Galway’s two over the last 10 minutes. With Curran finishing as strongly as he started the game and Ben O’Connor picking off some great scores, Cork eased their way to victory with the self-assurance of champions.

And, when it was all over, we were treated to another eloquent victory address in Irish - 25 years after that memorable one from Joe Connolly, whose team was honoured before the game. When one considers that Ó hAilpín was 11 when he first took a hurley in his hand, it puts his magnificent achievement in perspective.

Scorers: Cork: B O’Connor 1-7 (0-2 frees); T Kenny 0-3; J Deane 0-3 frees; B Corcoran, J O’Connor and T McCarthy 0-2 each; N McCarthy and J Gardiner 0-1 each. Galway: G Farragher 0-8 (0-6 frees); D Hayes 1-0; A Kerins 0-3; F Healy 0-2; N Healy, D Hardiman and D Tierney 0-1 each.

CORK: D Óg Cusack; P Mulcahy, D O’Sullivan, B Murphy; J Gardiner, R Curran, S Óg Ó hAilpín (capt.); J O’Connor, T Kenny; T McCarthy, N McCarthy, K Murphy; B O’Connor, B Corcoran, J Deane. Subs: N Ronan for K Murphy (38th minute); K Murphy (Erin’s Own) for N McCarthy (63rd)

GALWAY: L Donoghue (capt.); D Joyce, T Óg Regan, O Canning; D Hardiman, S Kavanagh, D Collins; D Tierney, F Healy, R Murray, D Forde, A Kerins; G Farragher, N Healy, D Hayes. Subs: K Broderick for N Healy (56th minute); K Hayes for Forde (65th).

Referee: S Roche (Tipperary). * Seamus Roche could feel well pleased with his first final. He made few mistakes and kept the game flowing.

Attendance: 81,136 (biggest since 1956, Wexford v Cork - 83,096).