Cork strike has left its scars

THE official attendance in Nowlan Park yesterday was just short of 15,000, most of those from Kilkenny.

Cork strike has left its scars

It was a fantastic crowd for a league match, but the reason it was so great wasn’t because there was a great match anticipated – make no mistake, those Kilkenny fans came to see a massacre, and they got it.!

Forget St Valentine’s night in Chicago all those decades ago – this was worse. At half-time the Kilkenny fans were on their feet, acclaiming their heroes, and for those of us in the press-box at the back of the stand it was like bearing witness to the crowd rising to acclaim the slaughter of the Christians in ancient Rome.

Long before the final whistle this game was over, but not one of those Kilkenny fans left the ground – they were still there, still baying for blood, for Cork blood.

It’s amazing how Kilkenny manage to do this. Any team they’ve seen as a threat this year has been put to the sword, and how.

Galway came first. This will be Galway’s first year in the Leinster championship and people have been talking them up, how Kilkenny are finally going to face a challenge in their own provincial championship. What did Kilkenny do? They went to Pearse Stadium and crushed Galway in their own backyard.

Next up was Tipperary. The Premier County had the cheek to beat Kilkenny in Nowlan Park last year, and again the year before – they don’t forget those things down here, so when Tipperary went back two weeks ago, unbeaten so far in this year’s league, they too were thrown to the Cats, except these aren’t your household pets kind of cats, these are hurling lions, and Tipperary were shredded in half an hour.

Finally there was Clare in Ennis last week. They were teased for half the game before being blown away in the second half.

So we come to yesterday’s game. When I was asked to go to Nowlan Park for this game I was a bit disappointed, I had hoped to be doing the Tipperary/Galway match, which was in fact a league semi-final, albeit still with a round to go. Now, I’m delighted to have been where I was, to see hurling played almost to perfection.

This wasn’t anything fancy, just hurling played with a direct touch, with superb control, with complete intelligence. This is a brilliant Kilkenny team, and the reason for that brilliance is that they keep everything so simple.

Contrast that with Cork. From the beginning they were making mistakes, massive mistakes. Playing with a huge wind at their backs, what do they opt to do? Play a three-man midfield, a two-man full-forward line, go for short puck-outs – suicidal. Kilkenny were more alert to those short Cork puck-outs than Cork were, scored more from them; then when Cork did manage to get the ball up front, more often than not it was to the loose Kilkenny defender.

Were it not for two Cork players, Shane O’Neill and in particular Ronan Curran, Cork would have been beaten by twice the amount.

Surprisingly, for a team that’s usually so crisp in their hurling, Cork looked ponderous yesterday, dropping balls, failing to control. I wonder, how much of what has gone on for the past several months affected this team?

They had two great wins over the last couple of weeks, but as someone said, they were hurling just on memory. The reality is that Kilkenny didn’t have to play with the pedal to the metal yesterday. Despite their brilliance, I don’t think they were really in top gear. Once Eoin Larkin got their second goal, it was cruise control for Kilkenny.

It has to be the strike, the repercussions of the strike, finally taking its toll in Cork; it can’t be heavy training, an excuse being thrown out by a lot of struggling counties at the moment – Cork haven’t had that. No, I think the effects of the strike really only kicked in yesterday. When you take the field against Kilkenny, especially the mood this Kilkenny team is in at the moment, your head has to be absolutely right – Cork were all wrong yesterday.

Going in with all those tactics, those ideas – they should have kept it simple, as Kilkenny do, they should have lined out their team in their most familiar positions, they should have gone with a conventional 15-man line-up, and they should just have tried to match Kilkenny man to man for as long as they could manage it.

Now, they’ve been dealt a heavy blow – it’s going to be a long hard road back.

With Kilkenny, one guy who really impressed me yesterday was Richie Power. Yesterday he was brilliant, oozed class. Also very impressive, the midfield partnership of Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly – they’re going to be hard to shift now, even when Cha Fitzpatrick and Derek Lyng return. Another man who’s after growing, Brian Hogan, could be the main man in the Kilkenny defence this year. Reminds me of a fella called Frank Cummins; of course Brian is going to have the support back there of the likes of Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney, Noel Hickey, Michael Kavanagh, Jackie Tyrell, not to mention James Ryall – I could go on and on, about the depth of talent Kilkenny has. Finally, a suggestion – given how dominant they’ve become, would it be possible to divide Kilkenny into two counties, north and south, for the upcoming championship? And what odds they’d meet in the All-Ireland final?

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