In the immediate aftermath of Saturday night, disappointment was still the prevailing emotion. Five points up, inside the last ten minutes and looking relatively comfortable, it should have been done and dusted. Maybe I was a fool to think that it was. I was definitely an even bigger fool to actually say it to somebody. My father met my proclamation that it was all over with a quick, withering glance that left me in no doubt that he thought I was an idiot. And he was right. Colin Fennelly and TJ Reid must have heard me too and soon enough I was back in my box.
However, this disappointment was of a completely different nature to that of Croke Park. It didn’t cut as deep and it hasn’t lasted as long. The reason for this is simple. Cork performed on Saturday night. Finally. They showed that they can be a good team. Everything that was lacking in the first three rounds was present against Kilkenny. There was an appetite for work, there was physicality, there was a desire to support the man in possession, there was a goal threat – there was just a real edge to their play. And when all that is present, that’s when you win the right to play your hurling. It doesn’t work the other way round.
It was incredible to see the difference that these basics made. It ensured that Cork could win and, at the very minimum, compete for their own puck-outs. Christopher Joyce played with a real presence at centre-back, barking orders at those around him. Stephen McDonnell was unrecognisable in comparison Croke Park, as was Lorcán McLoughlin and my nephew’s favourite, Cormac Murphy. There was a Conor Lehane point in the first half, when he controlled a long ball on the turn, that was simply majestic. And then there was Seamus Harnedy.
It is a pleasure to watch Harnedy play hurling. He’s a selfless player who knows when it’s necessary to be selfish. It must be a nightmare to mark him. He never backs off, he chases lost causes and he has a physical presence. He can win the ball in the air or on the ground and his first option is to always take his man on. He also has an imagination. I was behind the goal Cork attacked in the first half an I’m convinced his first point was an effort to lob the ‘keeper after he cut in from the road side of the ground. He’s nearly like the anti-Cork hurler at the moment in his sheer reliability. To go with it, he just seems to enjoy himself. He’s the benchmark for this Cork team, for any team.
Yet all of this wasn’t enough. We still came up short. The worst thing about the Kilkenny goals is that they were so avoidable. Cork had the hard work done and then just left them in so easily. But all night Kilkenny seemed to pick off their scores a bit easier. You have to admire them, even if it’s despite yourself. They just refuse to accept that anybody can beat them. The Cork wides didn’t help, nor did the free count. But when the dust settled it was a positive performance. The best part of it was probably the way Cork responded to the goals. It hinted at a resilience, a refusal that’s essential for success.
The footballers followed up a positive performance in Dublin with a comfortable victory over Monaghan. For that they deserve credit. Now it’s up to the hurlers to do the same. However, Tipperary in Thurles is a completely different animal to Monaghan in Páirc Uí Rinn. This is a Tipperary who need the win. Cork need to back up last weekend with an even better performance. If Cork win, well then it’s Cork v Tipp again, in a genuinely important league game, a phoney war before championship. That sounds a bit like 2013. And there I am again, getting ahead of myself. Let’s see how Sunday goes first.