On Saturday morning, Kilmacud Crokes travelled down from Dublin before playing Clarecastle in a challenge game at 4pm, and then coming back to west Clare for the evening. The Crokes boys were staying in Ennis but they wanted to watch the Cork-Dublin game back in Murtys.
The craic was deadly, especially from having worked with the Crokes lads for two years, and when there were a few involved with Dublin. When Oisin O’Rorke came on as a sub late on, ‘Burger’ — as they call Oisin — got a royal welcome. When the Dubs reduced the margin to four points down the home straight, the decibel levels went through the roof.
It was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends. John Dillon, who I marked in the 1987 Harty Cup final against Midleton CBS, was down with the lads, having transferred to Crokes after moving to Dublin, and whose son is now involved with the senior team.
John was really positive about Cork, but he had that insight from both sides. Knowing Ronan Hayes so well, John felt that Hayeso would present Robert Downey with a much bigger challenge than Aron Shanagher had a week earlier. Hayes did early on but Downey had a brilliant second half, which is a neat metaphor for how Cork are just finding a way now, whatever the circumstances.
When Dublin did get it down to four, you were almost thinking ‘Is this another potential horror show like it almost was against Clare?’ Dublin just didn’t have a Tony Kelly, but while there still are those few questions marks around Cork, they’re doing so much other stuff right.
Nobody has ever questioned their class and talent but Cork are certainly becoming a more rounded and mature team. It was always going to be a dangerous game for Cork, and one they just needed to negotiate safely and maturely. No real fanfare. No histrionics. They missed a rake of scores but still finished with 2-26. Job done.
Dublin started well but they needed to bag one of those early goal chances to just get ahead to give themselves early momentum to drive on that advantage. Once they didn’t, and Cork got out in front, Dublin were always chasing the match.
Tim O’Mahony’s goal ignited Cork’s charge. It was a brilliant goal, Kyle Hayesque in its design and finish, showcasing everything good about the power and pace and class of Cork’s running game. The execution levels didn’t always match the design but Cork’s intent and lust for green flags has become the real poison in their bite.
Cork had already created two clear-cut goal-chances before Tim’s strike but Jack O’Connor hit the side-netting and Alan Nolan made a brilliant save from Robbie O’Flynn. After Shane Kingston’s green flag, Cork only created one goal chance in the second half but Patrick Horgan’s decision to slip the ball over the bar from a tight angle with Nolan charging out summed up Cork’s mindset throughout that second half — just keep the scoreboard moving.
O’Mahony was Cork’s standout player but it was a functional performance where Cork were steady right around the field. Mark Coleman did hit a few loose passes but he was still really solid; Seamus Harnedy took the game by the throat when Cork were listing early on; and O’Connor’s pace was like a bad migraine for Dublin — searing and no end to it.
If Dublin had Eoghan O’Donnell, they could have asked a few more questions. They might have been able to release Liam Rushe from sitting deep and go man-on-man and push Conor Burke into midfield earlier than they did, but Dublin were worried about Jack’s pace all evening.
Cork have real momentum now heading into Sunday but there is really something building in the county with the U20s in an All-Ireland final, and the minors in a Munster final this day week. You could sense that excitement around Semple Stadium, with the Cork crowd outnumbering Dublin at least 2-1.
It’s just a pity that the Dublin supporters don’t get behind this team a bit more. The critics will say that this Dublin side is only capable of going so far but they beat Galway and gave it everything against Kilkenny and Cork. Can a manager really ask for any more from his players?
After three seasons, it’s hard to know what Mattie Kenny will do next. It’s been a disruptive last couple of years with Covid, so if Mattie wants another year in the job, I think he at least deserves that much.
We’re not the Premier League but at times it can feel that way in the GAA when it comes to managers and older players. After Tipp’s defeat on Saturday, the immediate questions were focussed on what’s next for Liam Sheedy and a raft of his main men?
I wouldn’t second-guess a man like Liam but, my gut feeling is that when Liam didn’t initiate a rebuild this year, he wasn’t interested in staying on any longer to oversee what needs to happen now.
Tipp need to go in a new direction. That will surely happen if a new manager comes in but you would have to admire the Tipp lads for how they fought their way back into a game that looked gone in the fourth quarter.
If John McGrath had stuck his late goal chance, the match would probably have gone to extra-time, but the way in which Waterford charged up the field and landed 1-2 illustrated the difference between the teams; Tipp were relying on individual brilliance all afternoon; Waterford always had that extra gear, that larger piston in their engine to power on.
Waterford came out of the traps like a greyhound in Clonmel that knew he might be caught at the top of the hill, but that if he didn’t lead, he had no chance. It was nearly that greyhound mindset of not allowing Tipp to lead at the hill, especially from having seen how Tipp had raced to the top of the hill so early against Limerick.
You expected Waterford to coast down the hill late when they had such a big lead but hurling is just a crazy game. All of a sudden, Waterford couldn’t win a ball and, next thing, John McGrath is nearly taking the match to extra-time.
Waterford’s struggles on their own puckout gave Tipp a huge platform and brought them right back into the game. Waterford didn’t vary their puckout enough. They could have managed the game better in the last quarter, but this was Waterford’s third game in 14 days and legs were inevitably going to tire. In any case, Waterford still managed the game when the need was greatest in injury-time.
That may have been down to the brilliance of Neil Montgomery but the Waterford bench came up with 1-5 from play late on. That’s another tribute to Liam Cahill after all the players Waterford have lost over the last nine months.
Peripheral players are really stepping up. Jack Prendergast had two brilliant assists for Waterford’s first half goals from Austin Gleeson and Dessie Hutchinson. I wondered if Peter Hogan could make that step up from being a good club player with Ballygunner to an inter-county midfielder but he certainly did on Saturday. Kieran Bennett has been around a while but he has gone to another level this year. Shaun O’Brien didn’t start against Clare but he made some big saves, especially the one from McGrath.
Gleeson was Gleeson while Barron was Barron, both superb. With Jamie only having returned from injury for the Laois game — he came on in the last quarter — it will be a huge ask for him to keep it going now for a fourth week in a row. If I was Cahill, I wouldn’t even ask him to put on a pair of togs on Tuesday and Thursday. I’d be telling Jamie to nearly live in the sea in Tramore for the week.
Most of the narrative around this game beforehand was on the Cahill-Sheedy dynamic, but that won’t recede any time soon if Sheedy decides to walk away. Cahill is the natural successor and I’d say Tipp will do everything to get him back if that’s how it plays out.
That’s all for another day, especially when Cahill has another year left on his term, and Waterford will be so desperate to hold on to him. I’m not saying that Sheedy has gone but if Tipp are to rebuild, it seems logical that the man to carry out that reconstruction is the guy who put the building blocks firmly in place from having worked with so many of these younger Tipp players.
You’d wonder why Sheedy didn’t throw in more of those younger players again earlier, especially Mark Kehoe, who played really well when introduced. On the other hand, Tipp’s great warriors kept going, kept trying, kept searching, as they always have done.
I’m not retiring anyone here but that quest may be over now for some of those great, great players. Some critics will say they have only three medals compared to the massive haul of the Kilkenny lads, but you cannot measure greatness through chunks of gold.
They owe Tipp nothing. They owe hurling nothing. Brilliant, brilliant men.