One thing that struck me on the way to Croke Park yesterday, the number of Galway supporters around the place.
I met people I haven’t met for years, big happy heads on them, and this was before the game!
These are good hurling people I’m talking about, fellas who know their hurling. They knew something good was in the air for Galway and you’d have to say, unlike on so many previous occasions, the team did not let them down.
This was a poor game, poor hurling with no pattern or method. It didn’t feel at all like an All-Ireland semi-final. Talent without willpower isn’t good enough — Galway had a plentiful supply of both, Cork hadn’t, and that was their downfall.
Not being able to start Niall McCarthy due to his broken toe was a huge loss to Cork. He’s one of their strongest players, has never left them down in Croke Park, has the experience for this level and has the will-power for this level.
For the second championship game in-a-row the three Cork half-forwards who were named to start, three youngsters, were all taken off. I’m talking about Conor Lehane, Cian McCarthy and Jamie Coughlan. I know Conor spent most of the game in the inside line but he was far enough from goals a lot of the time to have been a half-forward anyway.
Any team that isn’t able to at least break even in the half-forward line is always going to be in trouble and none of these guys came close to making a good clean catch in the air, nor did they even contest the ball very well. If Cork are to make progress next year they’re going to have to start winning ball in this area.
I felt also their midfield played way too deep — what role did Lorcan McLoughlin have yesterday? He seemed to me to be more a half-back than a midfielder, which left Cork struggling for numbers from midfield upwards.
When I think of all the great Cork goal-poachers of the past, the reason they scored was because they were playing close to goals. The manager himself, Jimmy Barry Murphy, is a perfect example of that, as is another man who played alongside him, Seanie O’Leary. You need to be in around the square, simple as that. That’s another lesson Cork need to learn, the inside line in this case.
A defender, even an average defender, will only be worried about even the most dangerous of forwards only if he’s near to goals. If he’s 35 or 40 yards out the field, how much more difficult is it for him to score a goal? What goalkeeper is going to be beaten from that range?
Having said all of that, Galway too made the same mistake for this game, no forward in tight on the goal, everything played to Joe out in the corner.
I was impressed especially by Galway’s defence, very aggressive which is what you need. Johnny Coen was outstanding, Tony Óg was solid, Fergal Moore did well, but the real stars for Galway were up front. The two Burkes got two points each, Damien Hayes got four and did a huge amount of work, and of course Joe Canning played very well.
My man though was wing-back Niall Donoghue. For a young fella of only 21 he showed such maturity yesterday, very composed on the ball, strong in the tackle. It’s always a good sign of a player when he steps up his game on an occasion like this, an All-Ireland semi-final. Niall was full-back for the All-Ireland-winning U21 team last year, look for him to fill that role for the seniors in the not-too-distant future.
I have to mention the Galway management team of Anthony Cunningham, Tom Helebert and Mattie Kenny. They’ve done a really good job to get to an All-Ireland final in this, their first year in charge. They’ll know though, and they definitely don’t me telling them, they’re now facing a bigger challenge entirely.
There are four weeks to an All-Ireland final, four weeks in which the pressure is going to gradually build up, inside and outside the county.
They’re going to have to get the players ready to handle that pressure — not hide them from the pressure, just get them ready to handle it.
It doesn’t matter who they’re playing, they just have to be ready to play. That performance yesterday was good enough to beat Cork but it won’t be good enough to win an All-Ireland.
This was not a great spectacle. This was not a good All-Ireland semi-final, but that’s not going to matter a damn to Galway today. It is definitely not going to matter to those supporters who turned up in Croke Park yesterday.
Final few points: it was great to hear a crowd singing the Fields of Athenry who have real claim to that song. Second, if they’re not going to do it right then forget about the pre-match parade altogether — it was nearly a third of the way around before the Cork team joined it.
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