A harmful difference? Elsewhere in this morning’s paper you can read a casual reference to metrics and measurements, and the need for hard evidence when considering anything in sport (I know there is: I wrote it).
It’s difficult to put a precise value on the damage done to a team by prolonged exposure to low-grade competition; there are certainly plenty of people on Shannonside who could grumble about that, given the Limerick hurlers’ prolonged stay in what we can only describe as the old second division.
On that score, you would say that Cork’s single season out of the top flight will hardly injure their prospects on the hard surfaces of the championship this year. Yesterday’s evidence wouldn’t be an overwhelming argument to support that, though.
Take the two goals Cork got in the first half, when the game was still live. The first came when Wexford goalkeeper Mark Fanning lost possession and was subsequently whistled for over-carrying as he tried to retrieve the situation. Patrick Horgan buried the resulting free.
Just over a minute later, Cork keeper Anthony Nash dropped a long-range, high-trajectory free right on top of Fanning, who spilled the ball; after a goal-line scrum, Conor Lehane got the credit for the goal when the sliotar eventually rolled over the line.
Those were crucial scores. Goals always are. But they weren’t the kind of gifts you associate with, or depend upon, when it comes to the sharp end of the season.
Cork might have suffered right after Lehane’s goal, in fact, when Wexford midfielder Diarmuid O’Keeffe bore down on goal before having his shot saved by Nash: the home defence dithered over the rebound before eventually getting the ball clear.
You need hardly have it spelt out for you that top teams don’t gift soft goals, and they punish hesitation in the opposing ranks. Reliance on the former for scores and the latter for protection is a bad habit to get into.
The immediate response is that Cork are where they were because they couldn’t win enough games in the top flight last year, which is correct, but their narrow defeats (and draw) against the top teams of 2013 were far more beneficial than their run of wins (and draw) against far poorer opposition in 2014.
Nitpicking? Hardly. Jimmy Barry-Murphy addressed that point himself yesterday.
“The lesson has been that we need to up the pace of our game. We’re certainly nowhere near the standard of performance we achieved last year, even in Division 1A.
“We know we’ve got to improve an awful lot, and the players are aware of that. The pace of the games will go up — we play Tipp next week, so the pace and what we bring to it will have to go up playing the better teams, the Division 1A opposition.
“Next week is an excellent game for us, an opportunity to get the pace of our game nearer to championship pace — to be much more consistent over the 70 minutes.
“It hasn’t been good enough, really, from that point of view. They (the players) know themselves that they’ve to do a lot better.”
Cork play a Tipperary team which looks at odds with itself next weekend, a game that’s likely to be informative for both managers.
Competitiveness is a given: put that down to genetics.
The league may have served its purpose for Cork already, however.
They have found another piece of the jigsaw on the way to Division 1A.
They didn’t need another Seamus Harnedy, because they have the original. What they have unearthed is Alan Cadogan, who is now a nailed-on starter in the Munster championship.
Barry-Murphy and his management won’t shed a tear waving goodbye to 1B, but they’ll be happy with what they found there.