Hurling pauses, if only to catch its breath.
Nearly five weeks ago, the championship revved into high gear via that terrific Cork-Tipperary Munster quarter-final.
Aficionados thought they knew what would happen this summer, more or less. Then prospects altered before our eyes, game after game. Three of the All-Ireland semi-finalists from both 2015 and 2016 skidded into the qualifiers.
Five weeks ago, Cork faced an affrighting vista.
They appeared set to match their hurling famine between 1954 and 1966 with a similar lack between 2005 and 2017. Did anyone truly believe this county could become 2017’s senior champions?
All is changed. Courtesy of two tremendous performances, Cork roared into contention. The current crew offer an admirable brand of hurling, devoid of huffing and puffing, on or off the field. The ball does much of the work.
Make no mistake: Cork count as contenders. They are feeding off taproots in their camp to prior success, with selector Diarmuid O’Sullivan a three-time winner (1999, 2004, 2005) and manager Kieran Kingston a playing sub in 1986. Coincidentally or not, it has been mushroom weather, heavy and humid.
Enjoyable surprises entail corollary disappointments. Waterford’s performance against Cork in last weekend’s Munster semi-final ended up the biggest let down of all. Although beaten by merely five points, and denied a clear penalty when four down, Waterford seemed to reach the end of a particular line.
Frustration with the illogic involved in overly intricate and defensive hurling is often broached here. Nub of any approach? Its incisiveness in a tight contest.
Here is a concrete instance of said frustration: 64th minute of that Munster semi-final. Waterford fall five points behind, 0-21 to 1-13, following a Séamus Harnedy point. Centre-back Tadhg de Búrca receives a short puckout from Stephen O’Keeffe. He pivots and handpasses to Jake Dillon, a forward. Dillon moves laterally and fluffs a handpass to the advancing de Búrca. The ball goes to ground and possession is lost.
Is this approach, intricate interplay in midfield, the best way to attack a five-point lead with six minutes to run? The answer is surely transparent.
Yet this approach got embedded in Waterford’s hurling over the past three seasons. Flensing such glitches from their play will require serious overhaul, a task difficult to undertake in mid summer.
Yes, those emphases delivered a degree of success, including a NHL title. Even so, cold reality is that such hurling slights the principle of economy. Any endeavour that abrades economy will eat itself, same as Donegal football, lambent and enthralling for two seasons, ate itself.
The lead-up to this game’s first score proved equally emblematic as its 64th minute. Waterford’s Kevin Moran gained possession in midfield and shot for a point, with no full forwards inside, 80 yards out and more. The ball fell well wide.
Anthony Nash went quick with a puckout to Luke Meade at left half forward. Dallying not, Meade sent a diagonal ball, playing by numbers in a good sense, delivering from 12 to 13. Alan Cadogan and Patrick Horgan swooped on the chance, with the latter pointing in fine style.
Cork were ahead, same as at the long whistle. These Rebels doff their cap, any chance found, to Mister Economy. They are managing potential problems in defence in part by moving the ball swiftly as possible to where it hurts the opposition.
Here is another query for Waterford’s management. There remain clear question marks about these Cork backs. Mark Coleman and Christopher Joyce aside, this defence is not comfortable when facing its own goal, ball on floor.
Items: Stephen McDonnell’s tangles with Shane Bennett in the 23rd and 38th minutes, which produced a Waterford point and should have produced a goal. Both times, McDonnell’s body shape is all wrong.
Into the bargain, Colm Spillane looks a touch impetuous, as per the second yellow card he received. Why did he not let Tommy Ryan fetch and then stand him up? Spillane’s lunge, headless and needless in equal measure, could have cost Cork their win.
What would opponents ordinarily do with these defensive frailties to eye? Yes, heap on the pressure. Is this end achieved by playing with one man or with no one in the full-forward line for long stretches?
Answers on a postcard to Mister Economy. Remember that the one goal derived from a poor touch by Cork centre back Mark Ellis, facing his own goal, with the ball on the ground.
Waterford’s lauded workrate throughout the middle third simply did not land in Thurles.
Item: 30th minute, when Ellis picks up a broken puckout and flicks infield to Luke Meade. This choice should have been dangerous, since U12s are coached not to pass infield, for fear of interception, in tight circumstance.
On the day, Meade had plenty of time to control. He dabbed a stick pass five yards to Darragh Fitzgibbon, who delivered long to where Shane Kingston eventually gathered. This passage of play ended with Meade, mad for road, striking a poor wide from around 25 yards.
Important question: Where was the initial Waterford pressure so as to staunch clean delivery inside? Missing in intricate action, no doubt.
Form and attitude are far more important than systems. Someone I know in Mount Sion tipped me off about Austin Gleeson when he was 15. Jim Murphy was spot on and in no way exaggerated a youngster’s potential, as everyone now appreciates.
For all the talent, Gleeson must take care not to become a lucky-bag hurler. Too often, he is lolling around from sublime pillar to ridiculous post, careless of what accrues from his possessions. Lucky-bag hurlers, no matter how gifted, allow the nonchalance of genius to coarsen into nonsense.
This Cork vintage might possess the potential to match their mid-2000s side. Which or whether, they are setting a fine example by working the ball so hard. How many other outfits will take a hint?
On this front, do not hold your breath.
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