Former Cork selector Seanie McGrath feels there’s more pressure on Clare in this weekend’s Munster hurling final because of their poor provincial record — but adds that Cork face the challenge of dealing with their favourites’ tag.
“Mentally this is probably the hardest one for Cork, because they may have to deal with a slight favourites’ tag, so they’ll have to be very strong mentally.
“But you could equally say that there’s huge pressure on Clare to deliver. People are talking about the famine in Cork in terms of All-Ireland titles, but we won a great Munster title in 2014, so there are Cork players with Munster medals.
“Now the obvious point is that there are Clare players with senior All-Ireland medals from 2013, but in terms of the Munster championship per se there’s probably more pressure on Clare. You have to go back to 1998 for their last Munster title, so I don’t buy into Cork being under pressure on the back of two good performances back to back.
“They’ve shown they can adapt to different opponents — the Waterford game was completely different to the Tipp game, for instance — so they’ve shown that adaptability.”
McGrath points to a huge turnover in the Cork camp since the counties clashed in the 2013 All-Ireland final.
“Clare have gone with Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor, who had all that U21 success with them and who know the players well. There’s an onus and a pressure now on the Clare players to deliver, they have the management team they wanted.
“From Cork’s perspective, it’s so fresh and new — Cork have nine players who’ll be in the Munster final who weren’t involved in 2013, so there’s no great baggage there.”
One of the Cork survivors, goalkeeper Anthony Nash, is emblematic of the side’s return to form, adds McGrath: “Off the field Anthony’s dealt with being one of the marquee players very well — a recognisable guy, double All-Star, taking over from Dónal Óg Cusack — and his play has been superb this season.
“His displays have been a revelation this year, he’s been a huge element in Cork’s wins. He was one of the huge reasons we got to the 2013 final and one of the biggest reasons we stayed in those games, thanks to his frees.
“You might think the focus on his free-taking that time and the changing of the rules as a result might have affected him — not at all. His long-range striking has been terrific from frees, and I don’t think any discussion of his frees would have any impact on him.”
Clare star Tony Kelly is another key man this weekend.
“It’s a Munster final and at this stage of a campaign you want the key players to come to the fore,” says McGrath
“Tony is one of those. He’ll have the bit between his teeth and will have a point to prove after the last day.
“I’d say he was disappointed himself with the Limerick game. They have a lot of weapons — Conor McGrath, Shane O’Donnell coming into form, Podge Collins concentrating on hurling — and one of the big positives would be having a Tony Kelly with a point to prove.
“He’s an exceptional player, one of those guys you’d just put in a special bracket.
“Someone like him will always rebound if he doesn’t hit the heights in a particular match.”
Cork need to match the workrate they’ve shown in their previous outings to have a chance, McGrath says.
“Cork management deserve huge credit for that, and I think what they have that’s a little different to previous years, they’ve put it back on the players.
“They even seem to be coming out of the dressing-room that bit earlier, and leaving it to the players before games and at half-time — to let the players stand up and be counted.
“At times in the Waterford game, Damien Cahalane was left one-on-one with Maurice Shanahan, little enough protection near him, and the sense seemed to be ‘you win your battle and do your job’.
“That seems to be the Cork mantra now: No excuses, man for man, deliver on the field. There’s a change there and Cork management deserve huge credit for that.
“You can see that in the likes of Mark Coleman, who’s been helped by the return to form of Mark Ellis and Christopher Joyce alongside him. Coleman is taking that millisecond to look up the field and then peppers in a ball to the forwards, whose movement has been fantastic.
“The attack has shown up well by delivering on the scoreboard but they’re also putting in a huge shift, each of them, in terms of workrate. It’s just part of their game now, management are giving them that responsibility - and I’d imagine the likes of Seamus Harnedy is also insisting on it out on the field, that every single player contributes with that massive workrate.”
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