DONAL O'GRADY: Shrewd Cork switches prove reserve strength

The modern game lasts for at least 75 minutes and five substitutions is now the norm for every team. Cork supporters would have feared for their prospects when they picked up the match programme and saw the list of replacements available to manager Kieran Kingston.

Defensively, only Shane O’Neill had any real experience. Stephen Moylan’s name jumped out from the list as an obvious replacement for the attack but most of the others were lacking in game time at this level. I wondered when push came to shove would Cork have the reinforcements off the bench to make a difference.

Those questions were answered at the end with the Rebels finishing strongly to see off a Galway side that was over-reliant on the ability of Joe Canning, who struck over 13 points from placed balls.

If Cork had lost this game the analysts would have blamed lack of discipline. Referees will normally blow for any loose flick of a hurley or a hand around the shoulder or neck areas and if Cork want to improve for the championship this is an area that needs major attention.

But this was a great win against the odds and everyone connected with the team will breathe a long sigh of relief. Manager Kieran Kingston, working from a depleted panel, will be well pleased with his afternoon’s work. His decision to introduce John Cronin with 14 minutes left gave Cork extra impetus when it was needed. There was also a crucial switch up front as the move of Conor Lehane to full-forward and Seamus Harnedy to centre-forward benefitted both players.

Harnedy was fed ball in the centre and made his presence felt, scoring the crucial goal that put the Leesiders on level terms with 10 minutes left.

It came from a long Anthony Nash free which Harnedy plucked from the air and finished after gaining an advantage from referee James McGrath, who otherwise didn’t endear himself to the Cork supporters.

The second Cork goal came from another high ball from a free, needlessly given away by Cyril Donnellan who was returning from injury after a lengthy absence. Harnedy knocked down and Patrick Horgan finished with a good strike.

Galway manager Micheal Donoghue won’t be happy with this aspect of their play. Dealing with high balls is bread and butter stuff for a full-back-line.

Conor Lehane also had some success in the air and it suggests that a long hard look needs to be taken at their coaching of the defensive skills required around the square.

Of course Donoghue deserves some sympathy as he lacked resources with Padraig Mannion, Johnny Coen, Fergal Moore and Paul Killeen, who all see service in the full-back-line, out through injury.

Galway corner-back Paul Hoban was in trouble from the beginning but he was not replaced until a minute before half-time while losing wing-back Aidan Harte to injury in the first half upset the balance of their defence.

Galway had one, and at times two players, free at the back while Cork’s Conor O’Sullivan had a free role in their defence. I didn’t understand the decision of the Galway management to play Iarla Tannian up front when he is better facing the ball and when he could have played in a free role in the half-back-line with David Burke or Padraig Brehony moving further forward.

Recalled Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash looked sharp between the posts. He made two smart saves from Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion, although the Galway duo should have gone for points. In the opening half his first 10 puckouts, mostly short, all found their mark. This gave Cork a good platform and their slick interplay had them in front by five points with 15 minutes left to the short whistle.

They were also helped by the inability of Galway to win their own puck-outs, mostly struck long. They lost six of the first ten.

Wing-forwards Bill Cooper and Brian Lawton spent the majority of this half supplementing the efforts of Daniel Kearney in the middle of the park while William Egan gave protection to the half-back-line. At no stage did Galway look like getting an all-important goal.

James Skehill altered his puck-out policy after 20 minutes. Joe Canning went to the wing and dropped deep picking up some loose ball. By half-time there was but a point between them and it looked ominous but Cork dug in.

I was expecting Galway to come out in the second half with all guns blazing to make a statement but they never drove the pace. Cork didn’t hit the heights of the Kilkenny game but for them the result was all that mattered.


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