Saturday night was a bit more like last year. Cork were beaten in most areas of the field. Out-thought and, at times, out muscled. Dublin were full value for their eight-point victory, probably even a couple of more.
It was a very deflating night after an opening to the year that would have left you cautiously optimistic. It wasn’t the loss, it was the manner of it. And there was a long, lonely drive down to Kerry afterwards to try and make sense of it all.
From the start Cork just weren’t at the same level that they were last week. The energy and sharpness that was so obvious against Clare, was lacking. Everything was that bit slower.
Despite this they could have had two goals from their opening two attacks and, when they led 0-4 to 0-2, we were all happy enough, expecting them to push on. The mounting wide-count from Dublin was a relief, rather than the concern it should have been.
Luke Meade was the exception to all this. He carried on as he left off last week and was very good all the way through. Darragh Fitzgibbon and Shane Kingston joined him in the half-forward line and you’d wonder was it asking too much to have three such inexperienced players in the same line together (there was interchanging of positions, but still).
It’s probably not a coincidence that Kingston thundered into the game when he was released from the centre and the menacing presence of Liam Rushe. While I’m at it, surely it was asking a bit much for Colm Spillane to play three games in a week, considering his injury record?
In the aftermath of the game last week I spoke with a man who made the point that one of Cork’s biggest problems is digging in when things go against them. Saturday was a case in point. Dublin’s first goal was lucky in the extreme but it still only left Cork a point down. But Dublin reeled off the next seven points in a row (I think) and Cork looked punch drunk. Two points up, eight points down. Just like that. They have to find a way to stop the bleeding.
Central to this meltdown was Cork’s inability to win their own puck-outs. Time and again they didn’t go to hand, were that bit high or that bit low, went into areas where Cork were outnumbered or, at worst, went straight to the opposition. The timing was off and it looked as if Dublin knew what was happening before Cork did and were ready to pounce on them. The two Ger Cunninghams were never going to let it be as easy as it was last week.
Killian Burke was a case in point. When you go short to the corner-back, there’s no point in him just launching it up the wing. The goalkeeper can do that. You need to take it out and try and beat your man, create a spare man and, hopefully, open something up. But Dublin were waiting and just suffocated it every time. The crowd gets frustrated and doing the right thing looks bad. In general, Cork’s support of the man in possession needs to improve. However, it is only February.
But a recurring problem in Cork hurling for a long, long time is winning the ball in the air. Of the six forwards who started on Saturday, only Séamus Harnedy would be recognised as a ball winner. If he’s looked after well, well then you’re in big trouble. And Cork were in big trouble constantly on Saturday night from their own re-starts.
Too easy for Dublin, too hard for Cork. As the game progressed, it grew into an even bigger problem from the Dublin re-starts as they seemed to pluck the ball out the air at will. Again, they just need to find a way.
Cork managed to come alive a bit before the break, Shane Kingston plundering an impressive 1-2 to leave the gap at a manageable four points. For the second week in a row, however, a cross field pass went wrong and Dublin grabbed another soft goal. And the result was never in doubt after that.
Luke Meade and Conor Lehane did bring it back to six and Lehane was unlucky not to grab a goal but any gain was given back just as quickly and the game petered out as the meaning evaporated all too easily from it. Patrick Horgan’s night of frustration summed it up really, maybe he needs a break.
After their loss against Tipperary last week, Ger Cunningham (of course seeing him and others in competing counties is a discussion for another day entirely) said that he hoped that his players would “take the hurt from the performances”. That’s what Cork need to do now. There’s a bit of symmetry to last year. A poor performance against Dublin needs to be answered against Kilkenny.
This time, however, it’s in Nolan Park. And this time Kilkenny are in dire need of a win. The pilgrimages to Kilkenny have been chastening for ten years now. But this is a challenge that needs to be relished.
The league to date has been topsy-turvy. Clare and Dublin turned things full circle in a week. Wexford are digging out results and only Tipperary seem to be what they are; as close to the finished article as what’s there. Recently, Larry Ryan in The Irish Examiner was at his acerbic best in discussing ‘the bigger picture’. But now we all have a chance to sit back for a fortnight and try to see it. Even if it is hard.
We’ll end on a positive note. It was fantastic to see Mayfield get what they deserved in Croke Park on Saturday. They’ve been an excellent team for a long time and they’ve gone up to Intermediate in style. I don’t think there’s anything better than playing with your club or seeing your club play in Croke Park. Seeing them win? Well that’s just golden.