“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”
HOW nice it is to have something upbeat to analyse about Cork hurling. It's no fun starting off in this writing game and feeling more and more like an agony aunt!
I have been critical of Cork performances to date but considering how fragile the players and management must have been feeling heading into the lion's den on Sunday in Walsh Park, they delivered a serious team performance.
I know beforehand people were discussing the pressure on Cork but, notwithstanding the danger of elimination, I felt it was more a pressure just to perform and show fight. In contrast, Waterford were considered All-Ireland contenders to Limerick, coming in on two points and possibly feeling the heat to back up all the talk. That pressure on Waterford was evident with an array of wild shooting, unforced errors and, oddly, a move away from the game plan when it was needed most down the stretch as they hit aimless ball down into Cork's spare man.
This collective performance from Cork was one of fire, fight and hurt. Sometimes, we need to find the fuel from somewhere deep to drive us through the storm. Some of the individual performances and moments where players just expressed what it meant to them were indicative of the talent and belief I have seen from these Cork fellas - winning frees, turnovers, tackling and celebrating raucously with each other.
For me, Luke Meade epitomised the Cork work ethic from start to finish. As soon as the ball bypassed the middle of the field, it was head down, run hard and be in a position to support the Cork half-back line on the breaks, which allowed Ciarán Joyce to sit into the pocket when needed.
For the second half throw-in, Cork won a free and Meade was straight into the maelstrom, showing what it means by pulling up his colleague by the scruff of the neck. Having a player like the Newcestown man allows Darragh Fitzgibbon that free rein to drive forward and do what he does best.
Just before half-time in Walsh Park, Fitzy plucked a ball from the skies in his own half back line, drove forward and scored. Not happy with that, he finished the first half with another point to put Cork one up. The psychology alone of running down the tunnel being a point up said everything that Cork demanded of themselves: We are still in this fight.
I am sure keeper Pa Collins pulled his forward unit together last week and said the ball is coming long and often and the onus is on them to win it. Less tippy-tappy and more down on top of ye and win your own ball. Also, that score in the first half will have delivered a huge shot of confidence that Collins take with him into Semple Stadium next Sunday.
At the back, Rob Downey manned the square and showed composure in possession. Sean O'Donoughue was glued to speedster Dessie Hutchinson, and Niall O'Leary was like a small terrier picking a fight with a Doberman in Austin Gleeson. Notably, Mark Coleman, a man who’s taken plenty of flack pushed the shoulders back, rolled up the sleeves and said 'not today boys'. He also clipped over two points. These lads set the tone in Walsh Park Sunday.
So if Cork got their emotional pitch right, what changed tactically? Rather than over-elaborating with that second or third pass around the middle third, the ball was delivered from that optimal position directly into the Cork inside line. Having Alan Connolly there, you can be sure to have lateral movement and even if he doesn’t get the ball, he’s creating the space and dragging the defender with him.
The introduction of Tim O Mahony to 14 injected more pace and a more direct ball option to hit. If that ball sticks inside we know that the runners will be coming off the shoulder in the form of Robbie O'Flynn, Shane Kingston, Seamie Harnedy and Conor Lehane. If we were to highlight the leadership at the back and at midfield, then I have to mention Harnedy. He was immense with and without the ball, the Harnedy of old, winning frees, celebrating like a man possessed. That stuff is infectious.
While the scoring details will make sweet reading for the Cork forward unit, excuse me for not giving a fiddler's about individual numbers. What delighted me, and I’m sure the Cork supporters, was the work ethic and hunger to chase back when they didn’t have the sliotar. On numerous occasions, the Cork attackers harried and hassled Waterford players, forcing them backwards. Kingston's turnover in the Cork square in the dying stages showed that no matter how fast or skilful you are with the ball, what you do out of possession can make the biggest difference to the group when it comes to getting over the finish line. More and more of this please, Cork.
When it was done, I felt a gushing sense of relief and delight for the group and for Kieran Kingston. They have taken warranted criticism but on Sunday they found a way and jabe thrown themselves a lifeline. Whether it saves their summer I don’t know, but one thing is certain - any man who pulls on a red jersey and works like that makes everything possible for this Cork group.
Is everything sweet as honey now? Of course not. Issues remain and the tone of the next few days determines whether Cork clap ourselves on the back or head for Thurles with a purpose, full of vim and vigour against a Tipperary team with nothing to lose.