CORK’S victory at Croke Park was never in doubt yesterday.
They led early on, were ahead at half time and they kept a comfortable distance between themselves and Antrim to the final whistle.
However they never fully opened up and the Ulster side’s probing forwards kept Cork’s rearguard on their toes throughout.
The Rebels’ backs never rose to the same standards of the defensive excellence that they displayed against Waterford.
One area that they need to address is the lack of discipline. Neil McManus, Antrim’s free taker, knocked over six points from placed balls. Ray Ryan and John Gardiner were a little impetuous at times nudging forwards in the back where patience and jockeying the attacker into pressured areas may have paid greater dividends.
Against better opposition Cork can’t afford to give such silly frees away some of which were conceded where there was no imminent danger.
Liam Watson, operating both at full and centre forward for the Northerners, scored six excellent points. Unfortunately he spoilt a first class display with indiscipline, being sent off near the end of this quarter-final.
But his display will help Cork enormously in the learning process for their next game.
As a contest the game was over by the end of the first half as Cork moved from a three-point lead to being eight points up in the last five minutes of the half.
Cork lined up differently from the team named, moving Kieran Murphy to centre forward. Murphy played cleverly, bringing various players into the play as well as picking off nice points himself. He linked well with Tom Kenny coming deep from midfield and Cork based their early dominance on this sector.
Midfielders Cathal Naughton and particularly Kenny took good ball from defence and sought out forwards with clever low ball. Allied to this Niall McCarthy, continuing the form he has displayed all this summer, was well on top of his marker Paul Shields. He gave a man-of-the-match performance through work rate and scores and his goal before half-time effectively ended the game as a contest.
It was a clever strike and it showed Cork in a good light. Michael Cussen, switching to the left wing from the right, caught a puck out and moved it smartly inside. Aisake O hAilpin showed good composure and patience to release McCarthy who scored a fine goal from a tight angle.
This movement showed that Cork were conscious of the fact that they needed shorter, more accurate ball to be played inside if they hope for a good return.
Incidentally, Cussen seemed more comfortable under puck outs on the left wing as Cork lost virtually all their puck-outs that were struck to Cussen while he remained on the right.
Denis Walsh won’t be totally happy with their forwards’ display but it will restore some of the confidence possibly lost over the two Munster final displays.
Based on this performance Cork have a lot of improvements to make as they plan for the semi-final with Kilkenny. There was a significant improvement in ball delivery from defence as the half-backs, in particular, attempted to feed low ball to the inside forwards. The inside forwards have a lot of work to do on combination play, movement off the ball and running effective angles to put players through one on one with the goalkeeper.
In the second half Cork operated well within their comfort zone and this led to sloppy play that might have been punished more severely against better opposition. At the other end Cork’s forwards put no real pressure on the Antrim rearguard in the second half which again will be worrying for the winning management.
Cork introduced a number of replacements which doesn’t help a team’s cohesion and this could explain to a degree the winners somewhat lacklustre last 20 minutes.
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody would have slept soundly last night after what he witnessed in Croke Park.
He wouldn’t have seen anything to be fearful about in this victory. Whether that changes or not will be dependent on the planning and coaching that takes place in Pairc Ui Chaoimh over the next two weeks.
But they have little time and they are facing a huge challenge.
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