Forget the blame game and get Cork hurling into intensive care

This was a well-deserved win for Wexford and manager Liam Dunne. It was built on workrate and on playing to their strengths.

Down the crucial, final ten-minute stretch, Wexford scored five points, using the ball well. Cork scored two and were over-reliant on long ball or angled deliveries into the corner. In wet conditions, those ploys don’t work.

Cork needed to attack through the middle but their midfielders constantly struck long balls from far out when they needed quick link-ups with their half-forwards and direct running at the Model defenders.

Wexford saw off Offaly the week before very comfortably. On the evidence of the Cork game that victory invigorated them. Last Saturday, they were fresh and full of fight. Cork,on the other hand were a little flat.They had to dig out a hard-earned victory against Dublin. But that was Cork’s All-Ireland final, almost, after their poor showing against Tipp.

Team managers are never quite sure how well their players will perform the week after a tough game. Monaghan, Ulster champions in 2015, a top-six team on league placings, were beaten by Donegal ten days ago and couldn’t respond when Division 3 Longford pushed on in the last 12 minutes on Saturday.

When Malachy O’Rourke sits down this week to reflect on the reasons, fatigue, which leads to a lack of sharpness in mind and body, is sure to come up.

Wexford were economical, enthusiastic and sharp. The Rebels lacked the necessary application to match their efforts. The Wexford defence marked tightly and kept the Cork forwards outside them, forcing shots under pressure.

In the first half, Cork shot 11 wides. Three were reasonable shots for scores, three were the result of very poor decision-making, while the remaining five included frees or poorly directed long-range efforts.

Championship hurling, where you are fighting for your life, is about playing the percentage. Cork failed in this crucial area.

Cork’s touch was off and they failed to find colleagues with simple passes, driving some into touch. These wides and poor decisions piled up the pressure, gnawing at Cork morale and boosting Wexford confidence.

Cork needed to begin the match with all guns blazing and dent Wexford confidence with an early goal. However, they failed to see goal opportunities. Seamus Harnedy is struggling for form since picking up some injuries. He is usually very sharp in this aspect of play. He knocked over Cork’s fourth point when a ball over the top would have set up a goal chance for Patrick Horgan.

Conor Lehane also had a poor wide when Alan Cadogan was ‘one-on-one’ with his marker in front of goal. If these opportunities were converted it might have turned the game.

Cork also made life very difficult for themselves with poor discipline, an ongoing concern. Their concession of frees was sloppy and unnecessary. Wexford scored 23 points, 12 from frees.

There are times in games when frees are committed to stop a goal. Sometimes, a hefty physical challenge, which you hope is legal, is penalised. At least in these situations, you may get value for your free. Cork got no value for their indiscretions but were severely punished by the in-form Conor McDonald.

Good discipline is a basic requirement at this level. Providing handy scoring opportunities to the opposition is always a recipe for disaster. It’s an area that needs remedial attention before Cork take the field in 2017.

There will be much debate about the state of Cork hurling over the coming weeks. In the past, blame has been apportioned to various issues and personalities. I was never interested in the ‘blame game’.

It is a waste of energy. What is needed now is planning for remedial action and the most important point is to recognise that a problem exists in the first place.

Martin Fogarty, the GAA’s new director of hurling development, is a keen analyst and a shrewd operator. I was surprised that he offered a diagnosis on Cork hurling so early in his tenure without thoroughly examining the ‘patient’. Cork’s hurling health has deteriorated massively since their last All-Ireland win in 2005.

Cork’s baseline is All-Ireland contention, at least, and healthcare professionals always examine with reference to a patient’s baseline. Perhaps after this latest defeat Martin may wish to re-examine the patient, because to many, Cork hurling needs intensive care.

Tipp look a more complete outfit this year. The inclusion of Seamus Kennedy, John McGrath and the stationing of Michael Breen and Brendan Maher in midfield has given them a good balance and they have a ‘harder edge’ than last year.

Their workrate, particularly in the middle third, is very high and on the evidence of this Munster campaign they look the part.

I didn’t understand the Waterford philosophy in the first half on Sunday. I’m not sure why they didn’t mark Cathal Barrett for the short puckouts. He is Tipp’s best puckout receiver. Shutting him down should have been part of their plan.

Austin Gleeson is a good long-range point-taker. There was a strong breeze. His optimum position would have been in front of the centre-back, where he could drive onto passes from defence to strike long-range points or link up with forwards with runs from deep, a la Michael Breen.

Gleeson played up front against Tipp in the first half of their league game, without success. That league game also showed that Waterford’s inside defence was vulnerable under high balls.

There has been lots of talk about their system being dismantled. However, the Tipp goals came from simple defensive errors more than system failure.

Goalkeeper Stephen O Keefe miscontrolled a ball to set up the first. There was no challenge on Niall O’Meara or John McGrath under the high ball for the next two.

Tipp obviously looked at the video of the league game and dropped high ball into the danger zone.

Waterford may not have attached the same importance to this aspect of their play but it was a sore lesson for them.

These defensive failings need remedial action before the quarter-finals.

Another headache for Derek McGrath is tomorrow evening’s U21 game against Clare. Most of his team have been on the go since last October, with little rest.

A week’s break rather than another championship game is what’s required for the likes of Shane Bennett and Austin Gleeson.

Why are they playing U21 anyway?

This was a grade set up as a bridge from minor to senior. They crossed that bridge two seasons ago.


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