It’s been 30 years since Cork have emerged from Nowlan Park with a victory against Kilkenny. 1987. Ancient history in hurling terms. And as my father and I headed for the ‘Ancient East’ on Sunday, there no great unwavering belief that 30 wasn’t about to become 31, or to be more precise, that six in-a-row wasn’t to become seven. A bit of hope as always, but no great belief.
Whether we like it or not, that’s just where we are at the moment. This reality is chilling, but not as chilling as the seeming indifference that has permeated the GAA in Cork for far too long. Why it’s like this, well that’s for another day. We’ll stick to Sunday for the moment.
Cork did well in the first half and were well in the game. There was a real pattern to their play as they sought to keep the ball wide, looking for the runs of Alan Cadogan and Conor Lehane to the corners and they got quite a bit of joy from this tactic in the opening twenty minutes.
On occasion, however, they over did it, trying to feed the inside line when the score was on, 50 yards or so from goal. Every so often the players were also stuck in two minds over taking the score and playing it in and inevitably ended up doing neither. In general there seemed to be an anxiousness to Cork’s play that led to some mistakes that Kilkenny capitalised on.
Because of this, they were always playing catch up as Kilkenny were that bit more clinical with their chances. Luke Meade played further out the field and Cork didn’t use him enough in this role and, as the half progressed, the Kilkenny spare man became more influential.
But Cork did have two great goal chances. Paul Murphy denied Shane Kingston through sheer bravery while Alan Cadogan’s studs left him down at the vital moment. It’s always the little things. Still, a one point deficit was manageable even if Cork were probably worth the lead at half time.
The opening stages of the second half continued in the same way. A couple of attacks were repelled and Cork drew level before spurning a great chance to take the lead. With thirty minutes to go, the game was there to be won. And Kilkenny duly went and won it.
They reeled off six points in-a-row. Cork responded with three wides in-a-row. And that drained the competitiveness from the game. Kilkenny upped it and Cork weren’t able to respond adequately. Fennelly, Reid, Hogan, Fogarty and Walsh. Serious, proven hurlers who help make the newcomers better.
Kilkenny overpowered Cork in the second half too. But they were let away with a bit. In Monday’s Irish Examiner Michael Moynihan noted that “James McGrath refereed to his usual standard.” A beautifully loaded phrase that I couldn’t agree more with. But it’s still a facet of Cork’s game that needs to be improved, has to be improved.
Cork did keep going right to the end but the game in general was another example of Cork not being able to find a way to stop the bleeding. Anthony Nash, who was excellent all through, made two fantastic saves but so did Eoin Murphy. So six points was about right in the end, but it was a comfortable six points.
As we made for home we tried to focus on the positives. What else could you do? Mark Coleman did well again and will be all the better for rubbing shoulders with Colin Fennelly. Ditto Colm Spillane and Walter Walsh. Conor Lehane was excellent all through and really kept Cork going while the game passed Shane Kingston by, but he’ll learn too.
Luke Meade did well at times but as I already said, he wasn’t used well enough as Cork’s extra man around the middle. Cork just don’t seem to really know how to play to that style. The more players Cork withdraw, the looser the play seems to get. There seems to be a breakdown both in communications and coverage that helps create the situations that they can’t quite escape from.
It was a sombre enough journey, rooted firmly in reality. However, something my brother constantly reminds me of entered my mind as we listened to the rest of the day’s news on Sunday Sport. He maintains that no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse. With Waterford away and Tipperary at home left to try and salvage our Division 1 status, he might very well be right.
But as the results came through it became clear that, this time at least, he was unequivocally correct. We could have been in Ennis.