I was looking forward to this encounter all the week, given what happened when the sides last met.
Cork were embarrassed by the same opposition in last year’s championship and I was expecting the Rebels to come with all guns blazing. The hosts had eight survivors from the All-Ireland final while Cork had, arguably, their strongest available 15.
Cork’s pre-game routine has changed from last season but apart from the final 15 minutes, Cork lacked the urgency to win at this level.
New Cork coach Frank Flannery viewed the game from the video analyst area and he could not have been impressed with what he saw.
The hamstring injury to Seamus Harnedy was a massive blow to the visitors; he had struck for an early goal and looked dangerous in the opening exchanges.
How much his loss impacted on proceedings is obviously difficult to assess but Harnedy is the one player in the Cork attack capable of carving openings for himself or creating chances for others.
He missed out on a number of weeks of last year’s championship with the same injury and without him, Cork may struggle to avoid a relegation battle in this league campaign.
Cork did have some possession in the full-forward line but apart from a tight angled shot from Luke O’Farrell that struck the Galway keeper James Skehill at the near post, Cork failed to threaten the custodian.
This has been a failing with this Cork team over the years and I’m sure the management will be sharply studying the video of this game to look at ways of creating goal chances.
At the other end of the field, Galway struck some lovely points as they stroked the ball from player to player with nice combinations and some clever support running.
Looking down from high in the stand, they seemed to have all the time in the world. Cork stood off, giving them the vital seconds to make the offloads with hand passes or telling stick passes.
There was a lack of intensity in the game which profited Galway. At no time in the first half was any Galway player put under the type of pressure required to operate at this level.
There was no serious physical challenges on the Galway defenders or midfielders when in possession and this allowed them to work the ball cleverly from defence to attack with precision and accuracy.
The word last week was that Galway hadn’t much done hurling wise because of their team holiday and late return to training. If anything, it was Cork looked under prepared.
Of course the problem with assessing early spring performances is that one is never sure of the league ambitions of a particular county.
If a heavy physical programme is underway, then a lethargic performance such as yesterday, normally follows.
But Cork have only two home games and these are against Waterford and Kilkenny, probably the two best teams in the competition.
Last season, Cork were also poor in their first game. Subsequently they made the league final but unless a major turnaround happens next week, Cork may find themselves in a dogfight to avoid the drop to Division 1B.
Changing the culture in a team takes time, and time has to be afforded a new management team to put their blueprint into place.
A number of areas need attention, from a Cork perspective. Ground tussling needs immediate attention.This is an area that carries big psychological points for the team that comes out on top.
Only three real tussles were competed for in yesterday’s game but in each case it was Galway who came out on top.
The modern game demands that players refuse to be beaten in these tussles and at least force the referee to throw in the ball. Cork unfortunately are too easily overturned in this area.
Another area that needs to be looked at is Cork’s support running up front. Cork had one sniff of a goal chance in the 48 minutes when Pa Cronin burst through: his supporting runner Patrick Horgan ran the wrong angle taking the ball away from the danger area and the goal chance was lost. Small things but crucial for victory.
Galway’s defence was on top throughout, while they also won midfield. Joe Canning operated out the field in the second half, leaving two inside and Conor Whelan made life very difficult for Cork captain Stephen McDonnell. Cork played Patrick Horgan in a roaming role between the full and the half forward line with Luke Farrell at full and Alan Cadogan switching between right and left.
Too often the final ball from Cork’s midfield and half-back line was at most 50/50 and although they struck over some nice points, they never looked as if they were prepared to die in an effort to win possession.
Major improvements will be needed when Derek McGrath and company roll into town on Saturday night.
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