Men against boys in Thurles

Iarnrod Eireann announced last week there were special services running to and from Thurles for the eagerly awaited Allianz League decider.

By 6pm yesterday Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s men must have felt like they had fallen under one of the locomotives as Kilkenny steamed out of town with another trophy in hand.

At least though we saw one good game and well done to the Cork camogie team that overcame Wexford to win the first National League title on offer in Thurles yesterday. The two best Cork hurlers I saw yesterday were wing back Briege Corkery and midfielder Gemma O’Connor in midfield. How the men could have done with two players of their intensity and skill when the faced Kilkenny.

It seems the hype got to the Cork players and nowhere was that more obvious than with Donal Óg Cusack’s replacement, the usually impressive Martin Coleman. The first goal he conceded set the tone for his, and his team’s performance.

The nerves obviously got to him and many of his colleagues. There is no better team to capitalise on that than Kilkenny.

The biggest disappointment in Thurles was Cork didn’t compete physically. In defence especially you must be ruthless. Kilkenny are masters of that — anything you’ll ever get off a Kilkenny defender, you are certain to earn it.

Yesterday they got too many easy scores off the Cork defence — and midfield — and I’d safely say that when the management team sit down to analyse this, that aspect will be what most disappoints them. How they could have done with Diarmuid ‘The Rock’ O’Sullivan!

The only two players who competed physically were Shane O’Neill and half-time sub Darren Sweetnam who took Kilkenny on directly, ran at them, set a new tone for Cork in the second half. Too late though.

What happened to Cork? Why did players who have been so competitive all year suddenly become tame? This wasn’t how Cork played against Kilkenny in Cork a few weeks ago or when defeating Tipperary in the semi-final. I think expectation surrounding this team got to them.

And there was expectation. Now they must learn to deal with that. The game remains the same, regardless of expectation. Even when Cork men were on their own yesterday they were fumbling possession — what chance then have you with two or three Kilkenny players coming to compete savagely for that ball? It was men against boys.

Which brings me to Kilkenny. All the talk in recent weeks was about a new-look Cork team, but Kilkenny had more new faces in their side yesterday than their opponents. The only true newcomer for Cork was Darren Sweetnam, all the others played championship for Cork last year. Kilkenny had Richie Doyle, Cillian Buckley, Matthew Ruth, and Paddy Hogan. Remember, this was a Kilkenny team without Noel Hickey, Henry Shefflin, Richie Power, Michael Rice and Aidan Fogarty. They then lost both midfielders and full-back to injury before the game was over and still won in a canter.

There’s no talk in Kilkenny about psychology, about mental preparation; all of that is assumed, everything is down to the players themselves.

Take Richie Doyle at wing-back. Yesterday he was on the Cork danger man Conor Lehane and marked him out of it. Likewise youngsters, Cillian Buckley and Matthew Ruth slotted in seamlessly while Paul Murphy showed experience beyond his years with that stunning goal line clearance.

Today then, I salute Brian Cody, Michael Dempsey and Martin Fogarty, the three wise men behind this team.

Do you hear a word of complaint when the lose some of the most high profile names in hurling? No. Instead Eoin Larkin steps up to take command of the troops up front and lifts everyone around him.

Everyone is behind Kilkenny at the moment, Cork especially on this performance. But summer hasn’t really hit us yet.

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