On Saturday evening in Croke Park, Cork hurling hit a new low. The Rebels were decimated by a slick Dublin team, and offered little resistance.
Kieran Kingston’s side started the brighter, opening an early lead. However, when the Dubs exposed the open spaces and ran at the Cork fullback line, the floodgates opened.
In truth, the 4-21 to 2-17 scoreline flattered Cork, as two late goals papered over the cracks. However, the stats don’t lie. They are yet to pick up a point after three games in the league, and look dead certs to be competing in the relegation play-off.
They are the bottom of the pile in the league, and based upon their showing on Jones’ Road, they would be in the bottom half of Division 1B with this form. At present, they are the weakest of the five Munster counties, and this cannot be disputed.
When Jimmy Barry-Murphy took charge in 2012, the landscape of Cork hurling was in trouble. In 2011, they tried to squeeze every last drop out of the 2004 and 2005 All-Ireland winners. JBM changed that. Although there was no obvious talent coming through, he phased out the likes of Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and John Gardiner, much to the displeasure of many fans. He then sourced new players from junior clubs and untraditional areas of the county like West Cork.
To the credit of the St Finbarrs man, he built a formidable team, who came up agonisingly short in 2013. However, since then, nothing has come through.
Since winning the Munster title in 2014, it has been all downhill for the Rebels.
Kingston has come in as manager, and many thought that the backroom team of Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Pat Hartnett and Pat Ryan would add some much-needed heart.
This was lacking on Saturday, and Ger Cunningham’s side were the ones who emerged with the majority of the dirty 50/50 ball. It seems that Donal Óg Cusack’s critiques after the loss to Galway last July still ring true.
There is a belief that if the players are not there, little can be done. This may be true to a certain extent. JBM unearthed all the talent available around the county, and they still fell short.
The backs on Saturday night were simply not up to the task. The full-back line were in disarray whenever the potent Dublin attack ran at them, while the half-back line did not offer as much support as was needed.
While the return of Shane O’Neill may bolster the full-back line, they need further injection of talent if they are to limit opposition teams’ scoring. William Egan, who returns after a year out in 2015, has impressed at times so far this term. Aidan Walsh missed Saturday with a broken nose, and has much to prove at this level, but is undoubtedly capable of making the step up.
Up front, they lack ball-winners. Séamus Harnedy’s return was a major boost, but after Cork hit the majority of their early puck-outs towards the St Ita’s man, the Dubs were able to tactfully stem this threat. The other target, Pa Cronin, simply went missing, and this is an all too frequent complaint.
But when there are only two targets in the forwards, things become easy for a defence.
Patrick Horgan has not offered enough in open play over the last two years.
Meanwhile, Conor Lehane is the only forward whose consistency is satisfactory. However, the Midleton man rarely takes a game by the scruff of the neck. While he is nearly always reliable to pop over three or four points, we have not seen him drive a game for Cork, like he did in the 2013 county final for his club, scoring 2-10 (2-7 from play). When you see players like Eamon Dillon who, like Lehane, has been knocking around the inter-county scene for a few years, taking the step up and scoring 2-3 on Saturday, you wonder if the Midleton 23-year-old can become Cork’s go-to forward.
The Rebels’ championship draw is something of a ‘mission impossible’ scenario. Should they overcome Tipperary in Thurles, they then have to travel to Limerick to face the Treaty. It would appear that the southern county will face the choppy waters of the qualifiers once again.
If the summer of 2016 is going to be a success for Cork, they need to finish this league campaign strongly. Next Saturday night, Kilkenny will come to what promises to be a packed out Páirc Uí Rinn, and will be confident of putting one over on their old rivals. The hosts need to make a statement against the country’s top team.
Cork will wear blue on the night, to commemorate a tradition of 100 years ago. If they are to salvage and draw upon their tradition in 2016, they need a big showing against the All-Ireland champions.
Whether they are capable of doing so is another matter. The summer is a long way away, but we will know exactly how Kingston and co. are going to fare this year by how they react to adversity next Saturday night.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena
Read More About: aidan walsh, conor lehane, Cork, Dublin, GAA, ger cunningham, Hurling, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, kieran kingston, Kilkenny, killian burke, munster championship, pa cronin, patrick horgan, tipperary, william egan