As I parked my car in Dr Morris Park before yesterday’s game, the Moycarkey Pipe band were just tuning up before the U25 game.
The melodic sounds from the bag-pipes rhymed with the mood of the day, of a real Munster championship day; searing heat, huge tension, massive colour, massive expectation. It was the kind of day our fathers and grandfathers had told us about the Munster Championship.
I was lucky enough to experience a fair share of those afternoons but the buzz transported me back a couple of decades, of almost wanting to reverse the wheel of life and to walk behind the Moycarkey Pipe Band again. I took so much pride in leading the Clare boys around Thurles for eight years that some of the lads in Clarecastle used always say to me, ‘God, Dalo, you love the parade.’ I always had the same stock reply. ‘Nobody can score 1-4 off you in the parade.’ When the parade was over, then the real danger began.
I used to nearly get palpitations when I opened up the curtains the morning of a big championship match and saw the sun burning the stones. It was hard enough as it was to stop the likes of Seanie McGrath or Tommy Dunne but trying to tie those lads down in 25 degrees heat was torturous.
Yesterday rekindled so many great memories. It also reminded me of the vibrancy and energy of youth. I don’t know how I used to survive in that heat. I was nearly passing out yesterday in the radio booth above the Kinnane Stand. We were all gasping for water like a gang of camels.
It was huge testament for the players to keep up that intensity and pace for 70 minutes in that searing heat. Barry Kelly, the referee, clearly struggled to keep up with the play. It wasn’t easy in the conditions but there is a case to be made for two referees in that kind of heat because there were some incidents around the square where Kelly was 60 yards away and completely dislocated from the action.
The conditions probably didn’t help Waterford after an 11-week layoff because they were very rusty. On the flipside, you have to give huge credit to Cork, sharp in everything they did. Even their warm-up was light and clever. There was no cone on the field. Pat Ryan instructed the players to puck the ball the width of the field in twos before they broke into threes and played the ball around in tri-angles. It may have stood to them early on because they looked fresh and right at the pitch of the game.
Cork started well. They were confident from the first ball, almost taking their energy and vibrancy from the huge Cork crowd. The Rebel bandwagon brings something special to the Munster Championship but there is definitely a sense that the machine is about to move to a different beat from now on, and with far more momentum. Yesterday reminded me a little of Thurles against Clare in 2003, when Cork had just been through the first players’ strike that winter. There was a feeling of the slate having been wiped clean, of this being a new, fresh and more confident era. Yesterday smacked of that vibe.
As a Clareman, I’m just glad that the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh won’t be ready for the Munster final in three weeks because I certainly wouldn’t like to be going down there to take them on. The waves of Corkness which washed away Waterford yesterday would have been like a tsunami at their new housewarming party.
Apart from Mark Coleman, the younger guns didn’t shoot the lights out yesterday but they didn’t need to because the older crew grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck. Seamus Harnedy showed massive leadership. So did Conor Lehane. Anthony Nash was impressive too.
Cork went for everything. Confidence, especially Cork confidence, infuses their teams with that belief but I never felt Waterford really attacked the play. Nobody summed that up more than Austin Gleeson, who had no real impact in the game. I don’t know are Waterford just too institutionalised now in how they play, in how they think, because there was no real fluency or rhythm to their hurling at any stage. Their most creative genius looked devoid of ideas but what really was Gleeson’s role in the game? When they needed goals late on, I felt they should have pushed Gleeson up full-forward.
Waterford never really showed any real spark to ignite themselves. The last play of the game encapsulated much of their approach and mindset. Patrick Horgan won a ball down in front of the Kinnane Stand. He played it up the line to Michael Cahalane. There were two Waterford defenders sitting back but none of them were within 30 yards of Cahalane before he got off the shot. At that stage, Waterford needed to push on, to throw more caution to the wind.
There wasn’t a whole lot of tactics attached to yesterday but are Waterford still slightly stifled by having played in a certain system for so long? They were all about getting match-ups right but there was nearly too much ball-watching instead of just attacking everything that moved. Waterford didn’t concede 2-27, like Tipperary had, but they shipped 0-23, which is a fair total to cough up when they couldn’t get the scoreboard moving themselves.
This is a tough time for Waterford now, especially having staked so much on June 18. After securing a league quarter-final spot, and avoiding relegation, all their focus turned to yesterday but they never got out of the blocks. They looked tired. They repeatedly took wrong options. They overcooked passes. The only really touch of class anyone showed was Stephen O’Keeffe’s miraculous save from Harnedy before half-time.
Cork should have been six points ahead at the break but they never let that disappointment set them back. There is a completely different mentality about Cork now. The new blood has introduced greater verve, a new swagger, but the older lads have really stepped up. Most of these guys have been around a while now but they look like a crowd that are fed up of having been ridiculed and hammered and aren’t taking it any longer. Cork showed serious character all afternoon and Clare are going to be under real pressure to match them in three weeks.
Cork have a real bench now too but its gas the way Cork teams grow and develop once the energy and confidence seeps into the roots of their minds. I was at plenty of Cork’s league matches this year, listening to some fellas complain about lads only being from junior clubs. It doesn’t matter where they’re from once that red jersey takes a hold of them.
Yesterday was all about Cork but what a championship this has turned into now. The draw today week is going to be absolutely savage. At least one of Tipperary, Kilkenny, and Waterford is going to fall before the quarter-finals but that is the real beauty of championship hurling. Do or die. Death or glory.
Those are the days hurling people live for. Eternal summer Sundays when the championship feels like the centre of the universe. Anyone know where I could get a time machine?
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