Their total on Sunday was one point worse than their 1-11 score in that forgettable 2014 All-Ireland semi-final loss to Tipperary, two points poorer than their 2013 Munster final loss to Limerick when they harshly lost Pa Horgan to a sending off. It matched their 0-13 score in going down so heavily to Clare in the 1998 Munster quarter-final as well as their 1999 All-Ireland final winning total in the heavy rain against Kilkenny. Their 2002 qualifier defeat to Galway when they put up 1-9 remains their worst return these last 20 years. Before that, the miserable 1-8 offering against Limerick have they troubled the scoreboard so little. Sunday was their lowest SHC score against Tipperary going back to the 1973 Munster semi-final when they again managed 1-10.
Last August, Diarmuid O’Sullivan couldn’t hide his delight at the lack of extra defenders in the exciting All- Ireland semi-final between Galway and Tipperary: “@officialgaa outlaw the sweeper system with immediate effect so we can have game’s (sic) like this every week”. In Thurles on Sunday, it was O’Sullivan as “maor foirne” who was charged with communicating between the sideline and pitch and it was notable how often he was chatting with sweeper William Egan. Nobody can question O’Sullivan’s passion but was his heart in the message he was conveying?
Seamus Harnedy remains Cork’s last championship goalscorer, the score coming against Wexford in the 2015 first round qualifier. Coming in the 16th minute in Wexford Park, at least 280 minutes have passed with Cork failing to raise a green flag. Cork averaged two goals per game this spring but their summer record has been dreadful going back to the start of Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s term in charge.
Outside of Harnedy, Luke O’Farrell and Paudie O’Sullivan are their most natural goal-getters but one was on the bench on Sunday; the other dropped following the league.
“Score the points and the goals will come” is the old adage. On Sunday, Tipperary put their spin on that, satisfied to stick to points with little or no interest in creating goal chances. As Pádraic Maher admitted Tipperary knew what was coming.
After hearing how physical Cork were in their recent challenge against Clare, they were also primed for the opposition’s determination to test their discipline.
It was evident from selector Pat Ryan’s “benchmark” comments last week and Kieran Kingston’s remarks at the Munster championship launch Cork were on message to hype up Tipperary. They may not have fully believed it but having lost to them in 2011, ’12 and ’14 there was more than a grain of truth in the words coming from their mouths. Not since the 1960s when they were in the pomp have Tipperary enjoyed such dominance over their rivals.
Damien Cahalane could have been better assisted by Egan in detailing Seamus Callanan but he came out the poorer from their duel. Perhaps hoping to take a leaf from John Hanbury’s book, his attempts to unsettle Callanan with a physical approach didn’t pay off. His former dual-playing colleague Aidan Walsh was a first-half introduction for Daniel Kearney but struggled to make an impact. The conditions were dire but this wasn’t the first time we’ve seen Walsh struggle to keep his balance. The school of thought that they would be greater assets to the footballers wasn’t dissuaded this past weekend.
Had Cork won, little would be made of the familiar look in personnel to the team but it was noticeable even beforehand the lack of fresh blood in the starting side. Last year, the only championship starting debutant on day one was Cormac Murphy compared to 2014 when Cahalane, Walsh, Mark Ellis and Eoin Cadogan all made their bows against Waterford. Kingston’s former fellow selector Seanie McGrath said on The Sunday Game the best group has been assembled but there is a strong sense a glass ceiling exists. It must be shattered.
Of the three double yellow card incidents in the first-half, it could be made out Cork were the instigators in two of them while Cathal Barrett and Bill Cooper appeared as guilty as the other. Cork hurling is no stranger to aggression but effective aggression blended with skill and more importantly on the ball. Sunday’s first half wasn’t example of dark arts, just daft arse-boxing.
We’ve already mentioned Cork’s dearth of goals – excluding their freak 10-goal salvo against Laois in a 2011 qualifier they have scored 33 goals in 30 championship matches since 2010. But just as worrying for a team known more for their point-taking is this was another occasion when they failed to hit the 20-point marker, possibly the biggest no-no in hurling at present. In that same 30-game period, Sunday was the eighth time they have failed as such.
Horgan last December spoke of how determined Cork were to condition themselves better so they could take the hits from the likes of Kilkenny. Much was made of their heavy physical work done during the league but it seems a team regarded as one of the most skilful around have neglected the essentials that has won them matches even when they had clear deficiencies in physical strength and tactics. Forget the weather excuse — it didn’t bother Tipperary.
Kerry hurlers may be better off in Munster
By our reckoning, it will be 272 days before Kerry’s hurlers are next in action when they open their 2017 Division 1B campaign. It’s a ludicrous situation that a county that has made such gains these last couple of seasons should be left idle for so long. And to think the six weeks Cork must wait to return to action seems like aeons.
Despite doing enough to remain a part of the Leinster qualifying group next season, Kerry — like Christy Ring Cup-doomed Carlow — must kick their heels until February. In the space of 100 days this year, they have played nine matches. Part of Kerry taking the next step will be convincing themselves they are more than part-time players but it will be tough to change that mindset given the system they face. Were they introduced to their native province as quarter-finalists, they would have at least one more game in the form of a first round qualifier at the start of July. Now, there is a lot of compelling evidence to indicate that would be a premature step to take but Kerry hurling will now be packed up and put away for the remainder of the year. They will be out of mind and out of sight. Promotionally, it is absurd.
Acceptance first stage to recovery for Derry
Maybe Damian Barton couldn’t play it any other way. After all, not only had he just seen his Derry team lose to Tyrone but this was the fifth occasion this year where they had come a cropper against their neighbours.
“I thought we looked tired at times,” he said, before falling on his sword, “I have to accept responsibility in terms of the whole package and as to whether we were emotionally right.” The common belief is that managers get too much credit in victory and too much criticism in defeat but here was one refreshingly willing to acknowledge his own shortcomings. Acceptance is the first rung of the ladder and as Derry face into the qualifiers once more they at least know they have already begun to move in the right direction.
The multitude of tributes for former GAA president Joe McDonagh after his passing on Friday served as a reminder of just how many lives he enriched.
The Galway man was a prodigious force in GAA administration. His spadework on abolishing Rule 21 serves as a fine legacy to his tenure but the impact he made as an educator was even richer. May he rest in peace.