By Peter McNamara
Limerick’s excellence in reaching the All-Ireland SHC final deservedly received the majority of column inches since last Sunday.
You could see this coming since January when one just got the vibe this year would be different for John Kiely and Co provided they got the monkey of promotion off their backs. And so it has proved. They have made monumental progress this summer.
However, what has been bizarre in the aftermath of the weekend’s fare was how their vanquished opponents’ guts were questioned by a small minority of their own supporters. To be frank, this is very, very odd.
Admittedly, I didn’t notice it myself very much on social media, but apparently Cork’s character was called into question in light of Sunday’s reversal to Limerick.
Diarmuid O’Sullivan was asked to address the issue in his Paddy Power News column on Monday and his take on it raised a few eyebrows.
“Unfortunately, that’s the way Cork supporters are and I’ve said it before, they’re very fickle,” O’Sullivan said on Paddy Power News. “Cork’s only aim yesterday was to make an All-Ireland final, they weren’t trying to lose that game by four points. Limerick had more energy, they used the ball better and look at the quality of ball their inside forward line got - it was inch-perfect.
“But this ‘bottler’ thing disgusts me. If you are loyal to your team, you are loyal to your team - but again I’m not surprised.
“I was walking out of the stadium after, there was two Cork lads there and they were having a right go.
“There’s no place for it, but that’s the world we live in. You can’t get away from it.”
I can totally understand it when people are extremely disappointed after their side loses a match of that significance. After all, Cork really should have managed the game more efficiently and effectively when they went six points clear with eight-and-a-half minutes of regulation-time remaining.
However, a shortage of character is not the reason they ended up drawing the encounter before losing in extra-time.
There was a combination of reasons including the fact key performers such as Dan Kearney and Séamus Harnedy had emptied themselves for the cause and were then, understandably, unable to contribute as greatly as they had been doing, thereafter.
There were other obvious reasons. Shane Dowling. Paul Kinnerk’s shrewd coaching. Limerick’s will to win. Limerick’s self-belief generated from successful U21 campaigns. Two or three questionable refereeing decisions.
But none of them had to do with Cork being anyway gutless or being shy in the character department. If that were true they would have folded completely when Clare got a run on them in the provincial final. People have short memories.
The most relevant reason, though, is probably a lack of maturity in some sectors of the field. Where the majority of Limerick’s younger players are used to winning at national level, Cork, simply, are not.
And Gary Kirby explained this difference without meaning to do so, yesterday.
“These guys have won All-Ireland U21s and been in minor finals,” Kirby said in the Irish Examiner, discussing his own county side.
“They’ve beaten all the top teams around them - Galway, Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork. They know how to win big matches. They want to create their own history. Things like 1994, a few of them weren’t even born then. It’s a long way back to that for them. They don’t have that many headaches that way. The only thing they want to do is win, not make up for the past.”
‘They know how to win big matches.’ That is the most salient point. You have to learn how to win the really major games, the ones that define careers.
Yes, Cork have won back-to-back Munster titles which is a marvellous achievement. However, progressing to win All-Ireland titles from there is a totally different animal entirely, particularly when you have not won minor, U21 or All-Ireland Club SHC titles like many of the Treaty outfit.
It requires a unique mindset and ruthlessness. And you can see, 12 months from now, that Cork will have acquired that vital tool if they can go on and win the All-Ireland U21 crown, something that has become even more important now following the senior defeat.
And all that is part of the maturing process of an individual player and then, by extension, the team. As you gain more and more experience of All-Ireland semi-finals and finals you become accustomed to performing on those occasions. Eventually the penny drops then as to how you execute each play more effectively and how to deal with the oppositions' purple patches.
The Rebels were just unfortunate that the more experienced brigade, players like Harnedy and Patrick Horgan, got either injured at a disastrous time, or little things worked against them in-play, which was the case particularly with Horgan who just could not catch a break with the run of the ball.
Sometimes you just have to accept that it’s not your day.
For Cork, they will have to utilise the experience of losing the last two All-Ireland semi-finals in 2019.
Yet, what might be of even greater benefit to them would be for the younger players to be able to call on the experience of being successful in an All-Ireland U21 final.
If that comes to pass this year, the seniors can kick-on next season and finally land the Liam McCarthy Cup.
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