Just after Waterford had pared the deficit down to four points with four minutes remaining yesterday at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, I scribbled on my notepad ‘4 with 4??’ With Cork feeling Waterford’s hot breath on their necks, I was thinking that the match could go either way, but that thought was extinguished in a blink by a magnesium flash of Shane Kingston class.
Another Waterford point would have put them within one score of a game that looked out of their reach for most of the previous 40 minutes, but Kingston’s goal, and the two green flags which followed from Alan Connolly, put the exclamation marks on a statement Cork performance.
Cork were impressive for most of the match but the lulls which allowed Waterford to get that foothold late on were the only real criticism you could have of the home performance. You couldn’t really point the finger at any number of players for conceding 1-27 because it was an overall malaise that inflicted Cork when they got eight points ahead in the third quarter. It’s the only logical explanation for Cork being outscored 0-6 to 0-1 when they looked home and hosed.
In fairness to Cork, they reacted when they needed to, especially at the second water break. Kingston and Alan Cadogan were sprung and Connolly followed them shortly afterwards. Any day when three goals come off the bench in one quarter is a good day’s work, both on the field and on the sideline.
There will still be question marks around conceding 1-27, especially when you compare the 0-20 Limerick and Tipp coughed up on Saturday evening. On the other hand, the games were polar opposites. Sunday’s game was much easier on the eye but Cork will need to marry that approach with the raw edge of Saturday’s contest, especially the physicality and aggression Tipp brought to the game, if they’re to take down Limerick in July.
Will Cork score five goals against Limerick in the Munster semi-final? No, but it’s not black and white either. Cork might only need 2-19 if they can just get the balance right at the other end. That has to be the pragmatic attitude from Cork going forward but yesterday also provided clear evidence of what clearly seems to have been a different policy around going for goals as opposed to taking handy points. Easy points are lovely but goals win games. That’s what made Kilkenny in their pomp under Brian Cody the greatest team of all time — if the goal is on, go for it. Kingston definitely brought that attitude as soon as he came on yesterday.
Cork could have had seven or eight goals. Billy Nolan made a brilliant save from Patrick Horgan. Jack O’Connor’s first half goal effort went just wide. Nolan made another fine save from Horgan in the second half. You probably had the lazy-minded Waterford supporter last night lamenting the loss of Stephen O’Keeffe but Nolan certainly couldn’t be faulted for any of those goals.
Sometimes goal-fests can make the game seem false. That argument could be made on the opening day of the campaign when teams haven’t played in so long but I didn’t expect the quality to be as high as it was right through the weekend. It’s still fair to wonder where a number of counties are, especially Waterford, but I don’t think Liam Cahill will be too upset. Austin Gleeson had a big impact.
Calum Lyons won’t have a day like that too often, a red card and a bag of wides. Kieran Bennett was excellent. Stephen Bennett came up with a huge score. Liam won’t be happy with conceding 5-22 but he knows too how many big names he still has to come back.
I watched yesterday’s game on the TV but, in empty stadiums now, you can take in so much that you never really could in the past, especially in terms of what you hear, and how pumped and charged those messages are. Tommy Dunne was wired but Liam Sheedy was definitely the most vocal man in the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday evening.
When I saw the Tipp players arriving in beforehand, you could sense the tension and anxiety in their body language. It certainly wasn’t a nothing opening round league game, which was soon obvious from the animated demeanour of their manager.
Tipp really wanted to win. They may be disappointed that they didn’t, especially when they were in such a strong position down the home straight, but they still held on when they could have lost the game.
You could get that sense from Limerick when they started to reel Tipp in, an attitude nearly of, ‘These boys have done most of the hurling but we have them rattled now.’ The manner in which Limerick went about their task underlined their composure and experience but, in fairness to Tipp, they dug in and refused to give it up.
Both teams will have got something out of the match. Limerick only started nine of their All-Ireland winning team but Tipp’s selection policy was interesting too in that a lot of the new breed certainly got their chance, which may be a hint of what’s to come from Tipp in this league.
I really enjoyed the game, even if there were no real goal-chances, while most of the scores came from frees, but the biggest disappointment of the evening was how the GAA have decided to tamper with the advantage rule.
Can we not just give the power back to the referees? The five-second advantage is still in play but the referees are being encouraged to blow if the real advantage is in the free. Maybe it is but what does that do to the flow of the game? You could argue that, if the player does over-carry within the five seconds that the advantage is gone, but how often does that happen? What do we want here anyway — wall-to-wall frees or more flowing hurling? That’s fairly self-explanatory.
There were positives and negatives throughout the weekend but Antrim can certainly be filed at the top of the ‘positives’ list. It was a huge result but, being honest, I’m not that surprised. I always felt it was a dangerous game for Clare, having to go up to Corrigan Park against a team everyone was saying they should beat handy.
Clare aren’t Tipp or Kilkenny. We don’t have that mindset where we just go out and wipe teams away that we’re expected to beat. It was also a reminder to Clare that maybe there has been too much focus on off-the-field stuff around the county in recent months.
Clare will be seriously disappointed but they have the ideal chance now to right that wrong next weekend against a Wexford team which looked well organised and well-drilled against Laois yesterday.
I hope I’m wrong, but you would have to wonder about Dublin after Saturday’s game against Kilkenny. One fella asked me on Twitter, ‘Are Dublin gone?’ I thought that was a little harsh but, you’d wonder where the heads are if they couldn’t get the job done from such a great position. Parnell Park is not the fortress it is for the Dubs when it’s empty but this was a real sense of another chance squandered against Kilkenny.
Someone said to me recently that Westmeath would have a big advantage in the Joe McDonagh Cup from having played Division 1 hurling. After Saturday’s hammering from Galway, I’m not so sure. The last thing Westmeath need going into the Joe McDonagh is ravaged confidence from heavy beatings.
Westmeath were just blown away by the power and intensity of Galway’s physicality but, looking at the physique of the Tipp and Limerick players up close on Saturday evening further underlined the thoroughbred specimens operating at this level now.
The physical shape those guys presented themselves throughout the weekend is a credit to themselves, their families, their clubs and counties, especially after coming out of a near five-month lockdown. We hear so much about soccer and rugby but these modern day hurlers are every bit as professional. If they were professional, where they didn’t have to go to work or college, you can only imagine what they’d be capable of.
They’re all just outstanding men, right across the board.