When I looked at the Cork team on the programme last Sunday, I thought it looked strong, and that Cork were well set up to bag two points. Yet it was more familiarity with the names than anything else which, ultimately, reflected a false strength. It made me question what was really different about Cork. By the final whistle it was obvious — nothing.
Of the 20 players Cork used, there wasn’t one new name amongst them. Kieran Kingston has clearly gone with the same batch of players that Jimmy Barry-Murphy used. He has an obvious loyalty to those players from his time with JBM between 2012 and 2015, but an alternative reality also clearly doesn’t exist; Cork just don’t have the back-up or strength in depth.
They have good young players coming through, Kingston’s own son Shane included, but they’re not ready yet. In that sense, you’d have to feel that the pain is only going to continue for Cork in the short term at least.
There is still something seriously missing with Cork. You’d have thought that with Diarmuid ‘The Rock’ O’Sullivan and Pat Hartnett involved that they’d have developed a meaner and harder edge. With Pat Ryan and Frank Flannery also part of the backroom team, you’d feel that Cork will be well set up tactically.
They looked to have a set plan against Galway to play two men inside, with Seamus Harnedy as a target on the edge of the square. Lorcan McLoughlin dropped deep to have four across the half-back line and Bill Cooper, Alan Cadogan and Patrick Horgan rotated into that space Cork vacated in the middle third.
It worked fine until Harnedy went off injured. Cadogan and Luke O’Farrell were inside and there was zero penetration with Johnny Coen standing in front of them. Horgan tipped away with frees and some good scores from play but that was all that kept Cork from shipping another double digit defeat from Galway.
Galway were content to drop Davy Glennon out to pick up the extra man. Once they were six or seven ahead, Galway just cruised and were content to see it out and secure a good home win.
There are still key areas that have to be addressed for Cork. They haven’t solved their problems at full-back since ‘The Rock’ left but Cork will hope that Chris Joyce will stabilise their problems at number 3 after returning from injury. Marking Joe Canning on his first day back was hard going and Joyce was lucky in some ways that Joe moved out the field after 20 minutes because he looked very threatening early on. The jury is still out as to whether or not Joyce is the answer now.
Without Harnedy, who is out now for a few weeks with injury, Cork have no ballwinners up front. When I first saw Patrick Cronin playing Fitzgibbon for UL a number of years back I thought ‘what a prospect’. For some reason or another it just hasn’t happened for the big Bishopstown man, maybe his confidence has not being helped by a fair bit of stick from the fans and being removed from the action so often but sometimes you just have to figure it out for yourself. Anthony Nash lamped a load of ball in Cronin’s direction last weekend and Paraic Mannion just cleaned him out. Without Harnedy tonight, who is going to win any clean possession against a well-organised and compact Waterford defence?
Damien Cahalane said afterwards that Cork showed good spirt and fight. I certainly didn’t get that. To me, it only lasted 15 or 20 minutes. That’s only drifting, and that’s not good enough.
How long more are Cork going to keep drifting? If I was a Cork player, I’d be asking serious questions. I’d be putting it to the group. ‘Are we going to be serious about this whole thing or not? Are we going to just reach the odd league and Munster final, or are we going to man up and start winning things?’ Those questions won’t be answered tonight but it has to start somewhere, I met one Cork supporter on the way back to the car in Galway and we both sort of shrugged our shoulders. ‘That’s as good as we are, boy’ he said. I expect Waterford to win but I expect Cork to at least show something to suggest they’re going to be serious contenders, and not just perennial drifters.
The only slack you could cut Cork was how impressive Galway looked. They didn’t have the same bank of preparation done as Cork but maybe they don’t need to. Galway are on the easier side of the draw in Leinster so they have an opportunity to load their fitness when everyone else is gearing up for big championship games.
When Anthony Cunningham was over the team, you heard these stories of gruelling physical preparation. They played Clare once and stopped off in Coole Park outside Gort on the way home. They apparently ran so many laps around the forest that they carved open a new nature trail. Maybe less is more for Galway now.
Galway showed plenty of positives. Niall Burke was excellent. His ball-winning abilities offset the loss of Johnny Glynn in the half-forward line. Johnny’s loss will still probably be felt as the year progresses (unless he returns) but Burke’s return increases the firepower in the attack. So does Davy Glennon, who also looked very sharp.
Galway will be buzzing heading to Parnell Park tonight so Dublin need to turn the Donnycarney venue into the fortress it has always been for the Dubs. They have only lost a handful of games there in the last ‘0 years. With Dublin’s only other home game in Croke Park against Cork, which isn’t really an advantage, they have to win tonight.
More importantly, Dublin have to show the fight and grit that was completely absent last weekend in Thurles. Missing so many big names, and going with so many young lads, underlines a lack of depth in Dublin hurling but that is still no excuse for the performance seven days ago. Forget about the big names absent, Ger Cunningham is entitled to a lot more fight than his players showed.
Ger is trying to put his own stamp on the team but some things are pointless changing. Paul Ryan is a number 13, not a number 11 in my opinion, They need to try and find a ball winner for the half-forward line. Cian O’Callaghan is playing at midfield for UCD and is comfortable at centre-back but Dublin need him on the edge of the square with Peter and Paul Schutte injured. The return of Liam Rushe and hopefully Shane Durkin will be huge help.
With Kerry being the only exception last weekend with a fantastic away win, I expect the tables to turn this time. I fancy Offaly to win at home against Laois but away wins for Waterford, Galway, Clare and Limerick, with possibly Nowlan Park being so tight, the draw might be the value.
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