All things considered, last weekend couldn’t have gone much better. It was a win that was deserved, relatively comfortable and delivered by a team that was not operating at full throttle. In this new format, that’s pretty much all that you want. A winning, good performance with plenty of scope for improvement. And it was nice to be back home.
Yes, Clare had their chances. As they did last July. But again, they didn’t take them. There’s only so long that they can cling on to what they could have done without looking more honestly at what they have done. But that’s not Cork’s problem.
In the main Clare’s misfiring was due to a very good defensive performance from Cork. It was the best in a while and the full-back line was particularly impressive. The collective discipline was excellent while there was an admirable unity in the way they closed down the space when Clare created it. John Conlon managed to pilfer five points but the big guns of Kelly, Galvin, McGrath and O’Donnell were well marshalled.
But as the old cliché goes, defending starts from the front and Conor Lehane and Shane Kingston’s successful chase of Seadna Morey in the second-half probably best highlighted the huge appetite for work throughout the Cork team.
Yes, they played a bit too deep in the first-half but rectified it afterwards. Patrick Horgan was immense, Séamus Harnedy scored a cathartic goal while Bill Cooper, Daniel Kearney, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Mark Coleman were all very good.
The new system means that management, players and even supporters need to move on quickly. You need to be able to park things, such as the end of Alan Cadogan’s inter-county season and Robbie O’Flynn’s injury, and focus only on what’s immediate. Tipperary.
Tipp’s weekend was the antitheses of Cork’s as they suffered a loss that probably looked closer on the scoreboard than it actually was. Half-way through the league everything looked good for them but their last two days out have been underwhelming and worrying.
They blooded a lot of new talent during the league but the cavalry is back for tomorrow. What might worry Tipp as much as anything else is how reliant they still are on the old guard. Mahers Páraic, Brendan and Bonnar along with Noel McGrath, Michael Cahill and Séamus Callanan have all been on the road since 2009/2010.
Each year has seen them go deep into the summer, reaching at least the All-Ireland semi-final every year with the exception of 2013. So while they are not old, they’ve a lot of miles on the clock and they’ve gone to the well often. Yes, they’ve been supplemented by the likes of Rónan Maher, John McGrath and John O’Dwyer but the elder lemons are still the heartbeat of the team, especially with no Cathal Barrett and Michael Breen.
They’ve made six changes for tomorrow while Cork have made only one, enforced, change. You’d think that will Cork have an edge when it comes to pace. But that Tipp full-forward line has a “scare the pants off you” quality to it. The half-forward line isn’t bad either. While Bonnar and Callanan mighn’t have much hurling behind them, it’s hard to imagine that a forward line of that quality won’t go well north of the 2-14 they clocked up last week.
But their full-back line has the potential to leak scores, meaning that Cork could conceivably head towards the 2-23 they put up last week. It’s a very hard one to judge. Cork never pushed on after the league win over Kilkenny. They can’t really afford not to this time.
Tipperary won’t go through this Munster campaign without rectifying some, if not all, of the issues that have dogged them since the league final. Tomorrow could very well be the day they do so. But hopefully, Waterford will bare the brunt of it next weekend instead.
While Thurles is the place to be tomorrow, it will have a very off-Broadway feel tonight. Realistically, Cork should always be beating Tipperary in football. A run of good underage teams coming out of Tipp should not be enough to alter the status quo, especially considering how Cork more than matched them at that time anyway.
It’s Cork’s biggest game of the year. With hindsight, the league was more about consolidation than anything else and there was a crippling injury list. While a win tonight would leave many a fan worrying about what Kerry could do in the wide open spaces of the new Páirc, it would also make qualification for the ‘Super 8s’ a very realistic goal.
In general though, enough has been said about what’s wrong with Cork football. They just need to go out and perform. That’s the only way to change the narrative.
*I’d like to wish a speedy recovery to both Robbie O’Flynn and Alan Cadogan. Come back safe and well. Everything else will look after itself.*