Olive Esler, who handles the social media promotion for The Sunday Game was manic busy throughout yesterday afternoon.
As well as posting clips of scores, interviews, talking points and footage of studio analysis, Olive was also sporadically taking pictures of the four of us – Jackie Tyrrell, Anne-Marie Hayes, Rory O’Neill (the producer) and I - gathered in the production room in Montrose.
It was a good job Olive didn’t post some of the images, or the content of the debate. When Tony Kelly set up David Reidy for his goal, I jumped so high I nearly hit the roof.
Rory, who is a Cork man, and I were hopping off one another. I was so pumped that Jackie told me to calm down.
Anne-Marie was looking at me as if I had two heads but once the Leinster final began, the maroon blood was rapidly pumping through her veins. We saw a different side to Anne-Marie then. Herself and Tyrrell were jawing over and back at one another.
It was great craic. Good fun. It’s a different vibe but it’s a weird place to be watching a Munster final.
You have the advantage of being able to analyse the game to the nth degree but you are removed from the atmosphere and emotion of an occasion that you always cherished. And craved being at.
The second half was tough going to watch. Clare just seemed to drift once they conceded control after half-time. To be honest, the real damage probably began just before the break when Clare let an eight-point advantage slip to a four-point one.
Imagine how energised Clare would have been if they could have held that eight-point lead? What would Cork’s mindset have been inside in the dressing room if they had to face that hill?
Cork had momentum and they carried that with them right throughout the half. Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan were immense in that period but Harnedy deserves massive credit for initially steering the ship clear off the rocks, before guiding it into stiller waters.
Just before the break, he signalled to Anthony Nash that he wanted the puckout. Nash drove it straight down on top of Harnedy, who won it over Patrick O’Connor, before setting up Luke Meade for his goal.
It was an excellent finish but no Clare player tracked Meade who had made a 20-yard run straight through the centre of the defence. When Mark Coleman nailed a peach of a point from a sideline cut, it felt more than just ‘game on.’ Cork were fully switched on from that moment whereas Clare just seemed to drift.
Nobody tracked Bill Cooper for a point after the break, or for his run which set up Harnedy’s goal. Cooper galloped almost 50 yards to take the pass from Daniel Kearney and no Clare player’s antennae picked up the imminent danger.
Why did that happen to Clare? Did they run out of gas? Nobody knows only the players but Clare certainly hadn’t the same volume of leaders and on-field generals which Cork had throughout the second half.
John Conlon completely ran the game in the first half but Cork got to grips with him after the break, mostly through an increased work-rate, and a better defensive structure. Chris Joyce went to centre-back.
Coleman moved to the wing. Darragh Fitzgibbon moved to the half-forward line and Kearney and Cooper got a grip around midfield.
The supply which Conlon had feasted on in the first half completely dried up but it still took Clare until the 63rd minute before they brought the Clonlara man outfield. And most of the ball in the meantime had been dropped down on top of Peter Duggan.
Cork were excellent after the break but you have to tip your hat to John Meyler and his management too.
Early on, Cork seemed more worried about Clare than they were about themselves but they had a much better defensive structure when they reshaped their team.
They were smart too in how Cork’s forwards pushed up on the Clare puckout and didn’t give Donal Tuohy the same short options which he’d had in the first half.
Cork threw off the shackles but they have serious talent.
Cork are serious All-Ireland contenders now. Successive Munster titles in such a bearpit of a provincial championship confirms that status but I felt from the outset of the season that they had earned that right.
I remember being at a preview night in Oranmore in Galway back in May and, while I tipped Galway to win the All-Ireland, I felt that Cork were dark horses to take the title from them.
The full-back line is still a major headache, especially the full-back position. Damien Cahalane had no answer to Conlon, just as he had no answer to Seamus Flanagan against Limerick.
Colm Spillane did steady the ship but they can’t keep shifting the chess pieces around such an important position and Cork need to get the number 3 jersey fully nailed down by the time they hit Croke Park.
It was another big disappointment for this Clare group. Some of their big guns are just not firing. Davy McInerney was racked by Horgan after the break. Tony Kelly is not contributing enough.
He was anonymous in the first half. He never picked up Cooper for a puckout which Nash pinged over his head. David Reidy was roaring at Kelly to get into Cooper’s orbit but Kelly stood and walked back towards Nash.
Duggan missed three frees. Clare had some bad wides. Cork were slicker but the frustration is compounded when you realise how much control Clare had in the first half. They weren’t ruthless enough.
I hate making comparisons to my generation but Clare desperately needed a Lohan, McMahon, Baker or Lynch out there yesterday when the game started to go against them. I was one of the most vocal guys on our team but I wouldn’t have had to open my mouth in that situation.
Those guys would be roaring at each other. ‘Now. Now.’ They’d realise that it was time to nail some guy, win a free, or source a score from somewhere.
I just wonder is it a west of Ireland mentality? I’m also beginning to wonder now too if Galway might be affected by the same kind of mindset?
I know Micheál Donoghue had tried desperately hard to eradicate that kind of softness from his squad but that’s just in our DNA down this side of the country. We’re laid-back. We like the craic. And we find it hard to maintain that killer instinct.
When Kilkenny hear that stuff, they can never understand it but they just have a different culture to what we were reared on. They don’t do losing.
They don’t accept it. You could even sense that from Jackie in Montrose yesterday. Kilkenny came from behind late on to draw but Jackie felt that Kilkenny should have won the match. He certainly wasn’t happy with the draw.
Kilkenny were magnificent. They were back to their very best, just like the Kilkenny of old. Some of their great warriors were sensational; TJ Reid, Cillian Buckley, Padraig Walsh, Paul Murphy.
It was a baptism of fire for many of their younger players but the older crew showed them the way and the young guns willingly followed. Kilkenny really grew as a team and they will be better too for the replay, especially the younger guys. Billy Ryan got two points but he missed three.
This was a wake-up call for Galway but Donoghue will probably be happy that it arrived now, and not later this month, or next month. Some of their big guns were either silent, or they just didn’t work hard enough.
Joe Canning didn’t perform but, aside from the lack of digits from play beside his name, his workrate was nowhere near acceptable. I don’t care who you are, you can’t allow your man to clear that amount of ball that Buckley did yesterday.
Galway need to get that fire in their bellies back quickly now for next Sunday. Clare have an extra week to digest what went wrong but they need to get their heads around what’s coming now, which is more than likely Wexford. And a manager who knows these guys inside out.
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