DONAL O'GRADY: Tighter defence the platform for Cork's surge down the stretch

I was on co-commentary duty with RTÉ yesterday for the game in Limerick, which the Treaty won impressively. As a result I had to make do with watching the Cork-Clare game on TV, writes Donal O’Grady.

This has its drawbacks but it also means that you can see incidents up close and view replays, an advantage denied to the ordinary patrons in the stand.

The best position of all, of course, is to be present at the game high up in the stand with a TV monitor. Then you can see the play as it develops and also view replays and close-up action that can be missed at times by the naked eye in the stand.

There was a question mark over Cork’s first goal. Shane Kingston’s long delivery was tapped back by Patrick Horgan and two superb touches later from Conor Lehane the sliotar hit the Clare net. Some Banner defenders questioned the decision and the referee consulted his umpires. However, the umpire with the green flag was quick to raise it. He had sensibly moved back behind the goalline when Horgan made contact with the ball. It would have been impossible to overturn this decision unless endline video technology was available.

Cork’s Lehane will get the plaudits but it is worth looking at the video again. In a split-second Horgan saw that he might get to Kingston’s delivery. His marker never thought he could and this made the difference. It was a brilliant piece of movement to make up the ground required to divert the ball back across the square. This score gave Cork the momentum to go on and win the game and Clare folk will remember a similar score in the ’99 Munster final involving Seanie Mc Grath and Joe Deane which also turned the game in the Rebels’ favour that day. That first goal gave Cork momentum and their second goal put the game firmly out of the Banner’s reach.

Cork captain Seamus Harnedy, who had been influential all through, caught a long puck-out and showed great pace to stay ahead of Séadna Morey, hitting a delightful drop-shot past Donal Tuohy in the 79th minute. Both goals came from high deliveries. It is an area the Clare defence need to work on. Man of the Match Patrick Horgan picked up good breaks from these deliveries while Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy also profited from angled high ball into the attack.

Ten minutes into the second half there was a stoppage of eight minutes or so when Robbie O’Flynn was injured in a collision. Up to this point there was little between the teams and it was still difficult to pick a winner. When there is such a break in play, one team can grab the initiative and the momentum can swing. From the resumption and for the rest of the game, Cork looked the better side. They scored 2-9 to Clare’s 1-8 in this period with Tony Kelly getting through for a goal. However, in general, Clare lacked the penetration to fashion good goal chances.

I have often mentioned the importance of the final ten minutes in these columns and from a position of parity the Rebels outscored their opponents by 1-4 to 0-2 down the stretch. The Cork defence was good throughout the game but the covering for each other in the final 15 minutes went up a notch, with Bill Cooper and Darragh Fitzgibbon funnelling back quickly to help out. Fitzgibbon also made effective runs for three points although he might have passed inside to the unmarked Robbie O’Flynn in the 43rd minute when a clear goal chance was on.

That defensive improvement provided the platform for success. Conor McGrath, who has demonstrated his goalscoring potential in the past, was crowded out every time he got possession. John Conlon, who made a big contribution up front for Clare, knocked over two points but the resilience, discipline and determination of the Rebel defence denied the Clare attack any goal chances. Although some mistakes were made through poor option taking at times Cork corner-backs Sean O’Donoghue and Colm Spillane moved the ball well out of defence. Good transitioning of the ball from defence to attack is crucial in the modern game where possession is everything.

Clare began preparations for yesterday’s game back in last October. They were involved in the Super 11s tournament, which took place in Boston in November and they had prepared very professionally for it. I was the liaison between the organising committee when Clare trained in Boston College the day before the games. There was a fun element to that session but there was also a determination to be victorious the following day.

I could sense, from listening to the Clare management that both Donal Maloney and Gerry O’Connor had been disappointed with their efforts in 2017 and that they were determined to reach their potential this year. They forced the pace early on in their league games and built up leads that they could defend. Yesterday they shot a number of wides in the first half that might have made a difference. However they could never build up a lead against Cork and as they had done in their league games they fell away towards the finish. They have a big home game next week against Waterford and pushing Tony Kelly forward from the beginning in that game could be a crucial requirement.

  • Robbie O Flynn was stretchered off yesterday with a suspected concussion. He received a wonderful ovation from the crowd who appreciated his workrate and determination. I sincerely hope to see the Erin’s Own man back soon in the red jersey.


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