Cork hurling supporters may have travelled to Thurles more in hope than expectation as they prepared to face Tipperary on Sunday, but after the opening exchanges, the hope had quashed. It just adds more fuel to the fire on the Cork hurling debate.
It is amazing how one county seem to capture the talking points of the country. At this stage, one would have to wonder why people from other counties really care.
Cork are poor and it is one less team for those competing for honours in September to really worry about.
The fact that Cork are a traditional superpower coupled with a number of strong GAA personalities may be the reason why they are continuously talked about. But after the loss on Sunday, talking needs to take a backseat and it is time for action.
The lack of talent coming through in Cork is a legitimate point but it should be researched further and the word crisis in that department is over the top and ill-educated in many instances.
Cork’s minor teams and secondary schools were in a very bad way from 2009 to 2012 and that would be the teams that should be coming good at senior level around now. The three best players to come through those teams were Darren Sweetnam, who opted to play rugby with Munster, Michael Cahalane whose career was ended by a heart condition and possibly the best hurler in the county right now, Pa O’Callaghan, who is in self-imposed exile from the Cork team.
But prior to that, Cork were very competitive at minor level and brought through some very good players. The Cork minor teams have improved greatly since then and the Cork schools are getting more competitive in the Dr. Harty Cup year after year. So while there is more work to do, underage is not as bad as people make it out.
A massive problem in Cork is the quality of the club championship. The club game in Cork is absolutely awful at the moment. To give the county board some due, they have changed it and abolished relegation. This should allow teams to express themselves more and the quality might improve.
Without a good club scene, you cannot have a good county team. The clubs are where players should be playing most of their hurling and this is where a player will learn his trade.
The performance against Tipperary was worrying. This writer would have been critical of the management and coaching of this current group of Cork hurlers in the last 18 months or so. While the arguments about underage structures and the county board developed, the Cork backroom team got away scot free.
Cork played shootouts in the hope that they could outscore oppositions. It was not working and no attempt was made to shore up a defence that was leaking lots of scores. The new Cork management attempted to play a more defensive system in this 2016 championship.
Everybody saw how that system unfolded against Tipp; hence the term ‘worrying’.
Just looking at Cork’s performance, one has to wonder is it really just down to a lack of talent within the team at the moment. Then people must look at the lack of intensity Cork played with. Does that come down to players individual or collective attitude, or is it poor management or coaching?
The Rebels did not play the system well. William Egan was deployed as a sweeper and played very deep. He picked up some good possession but his distribution was poor. He was not the only guilty party in this area though. Cork’s distribution of the ball was very poor all round.
Playing a sweeper requires a clear process of plan of how a team moves the ball up the field. Unless a team is blessed with exceptional ball winners, a la Kilkenny, the ball must be worked up field. Otherwise a sweeper will just clear long balls up to the opposition’s free man, which Cork did on so many occasions.
Padraic Maher received the man of the match award. After five minutes, a bet could nearly have been placed on it, as it was clear as day that Cork were going strike ball to him all day long. His brother Ronan Maher picked up just as much free possession. The Rebels were very naïve in their attempts to negate Tipp’s set up.
Cork’s distribution to the their forwards was equally poor. On endless occasions Cork played balls to the corner, putting the player, Alan Cadogan on most occasions, at no advantage whatsoever.
At one stage Bill Copper had a ball on the left wing, he looked up to Alan Cadogan inside, Cadogan made his run towards the right corner and Cooper played a ball straight down the left wing and it trickled wide.
At another stage The Rebels were attacking and Patrick Horgan had his back to the ball as it was in the air. His marker Cathal Barrett made the run that he should have made, won the ball and launched another Premier attack.
A lot of people of criticising Cork’s use of a sweeper in the first place. But at least the management tried to make up for the clear defensive deficiencies that have been on show since the All-Ireland final replay of 2013. In this writer’s opinion, the main problem Cork had was what they did with the ball.
The other point and most alarming one was the sheer lack of intensity and aggression that Cork brought to the table. There is no joy in criticising, but Cork have to be willing to take criticism for Sunday’s performance.
Control the controllable is what anybody should do in life, and sport is included in that. In sport the one thing a team and an individual can’t control is their work rate. Cork were lacking in work rate against Tipp. There was not enough pressure put on Tipperary players all over the field and as everyone knows, giving Tipperary time and space will result in defeat 99% of the time.
So what is to solve for the Rebels? Firstly they must sort out their game plan and stick to it. Secondly, the players must improve their work rate on the field. And thirdly, they must create better quality of hurlers around the county, starting at the clubs.
It is by no means at crisis point.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.