I have deliberately delayed the submission of this match report to reflect on a tale of two performances, one performance was full of physicality, passion and desire while the other performance lacked cohesion, work rate and team work required.
Galway were full value for this twelve point victory over a rudderless Cork outfit in Thurles. They were dominant in every facet of play. It was a day when several Galway players came of age, none more so than Jonathan Glynn. The Ardrahan wing forward pounced to score the opening goal after only a minute taking full advantage of abject Cork defending allow the player to run unopposed from forty yards out to dispatch to the net giving Anthony Nash no chance. The Cork defending on this early concession set the tone for the rest of the afternoon as the Galway forward line were afforded plenty of space from their Cork opponents throughout evident in the number of chances that the usually lethal Joe Canning missed (ten from my count) during the seventy minutes.
Cork to their credit tried to go toe to toe with Galway as both teams played free flowing hurling. Daniel Kearney, Conor Lehane and Alan Harnedy scored impressive scores from distance but Cork were working extremely hard for their scores as the Galway defense were pressurizing their opponents, hunting in packs and not allowing their Cork player any time to settle on the ball. It was evident in the number of yellow cards issued by James Owens to Galway players as four Tribesmen were in the book before half-time, the significant part of this was three of them were in the forward line. It really showed the commitment and desire that Galway showed throughout the pitch starting from attack.
Galway management have to be applauded for their tactical and positional switches throughout this contest. The team selection prior to the game did threw up some comments within the county particularly the decision to introduce Conor Whelan from Kinvara and to leave the experienced David Collins on the bench. However, all the changes particularly Aidan Harte to wing back, David Burke to midfield, Canning to the wing were having the desired effect. Aidan Walsh usually so powerful under the high ball was under immense pressure from inspired Glynn and the Cork playmaker Mark Ellis was effectively taken out of the game by shrewd Galway ball distribution into the forward line with the use of the diagonal ball to the wings. Cork simply had no answer and Galway continued to impress heading into the break opening up a four point at the break. Cork were still in the contest but it was more to do with Galway’s accuracy in front of goal than anything Cork were doing on the pitch.
The Cork management realizing that issues were a plenty decided to call ashore Pa Cronin at the break and introduced Newtownshandrum’s Jamie Coughlin. The change did not have the desired effect as Daithi Burke and John Hanesbury dominated early exchanges with the newly introduced player. It set the tone for the rest of the half as Galway continued to pour forward at will and a six point lead was opened up quite quickly into the half. Cahillane who had a torrid afternoon and in addition had a yellow card to his name hit the showers early after forty-three minutes for a high challenge on Joseph Cooney. The red card was a blow but it was the goal from the impressive Conor Whelan which put Cork out of their misery. A long ball into Cooney in the full forward line found its way to Whelan (who has the work rate and traits of Tipperary’s Bonnar Maher) and dispatched the ball into the net. Nash was a forlorn figure while some of the Cork support were hitting the exits.
JBM try as he might by introducing Lorcan McLoughlin, Alan Cadogan and Paudie O’Sullivan were now being routed. The forward line in particular faded badly out of this contest as Burke, Lally (impressive cameo when introduced for Tannian) and Moore were clearing ball pretty much unopposed. The Cork forward line work rate has being an issue all year. It looked like it was resolved after the Cork forward unit produced a stirring hard working performance but today it was back to the tried and trusted bad habits, players were looking for individual scores and statistics and no support runners for players with the ball forced the Cork forward line to hit the deck early looking for frees. Galway with a player advantage closed out the game with relative ease as Cork threw in the towel with fifteen minutes to go. Niall Healy’s cameo summarised the game – was afforded the freedom of Semple with three efforts, two went wide and one went over with not a Cork defender in sight. The game concluded. Galway advanced. Cork are unceremoniously knocked out of the championship.
Galway can reflect on the contest with plenty of positives. Several players really stepped up to the plate. Glynn was inspired in all facets of play and the two Mannion brothers really shone at both ends of the park. Cathal Mannion’s haul of seven points from play was superb. His ball striking is super and Tipperary will have taken note. Galway’s intensity and physicality with or without the ball really caught the eye today. Cork were shunted off the ball on numerous times typified when Lorcan McLoughlin was dumped out over the sideline shortly after being introduced in the second half by Glynn for a Galway sideline ball. The negatives are clear and obvious – twenty-three wides will not beat Tipperary in three weeks. Joe Canning usually so prolific was off radar (ten missed scoring chances) but no doubt Canning will be back to form in Croke Park. Galway back line albeit not fully extended showed the toughness and steel required to compete in the latter stages of the All Ireland series. Daithi Burke was stellar throughout and was ably assisted by Johnny Coen, Padraic Mannion. Tannian was solid and the cameo of Greg Lally at centre back will raise Tannian’s game for the Tipperary game. Galway have a panel with serious competition and they will not fear Tipperary. It will be interesting to see how the Galway forward line performed against the Tipp defense which typically are extremely tight. Great day for Galway hurling as the minors accounted for a very very disappointing Limerick outfit by four points in the curtain raiser.
What now for Cork? This winter will see a lot of soul searching within the county. There needs to be a root and branch review of how Cork GAA is organized and how to nurture the underage development particularly. No underage success since 2001 speaks volumes. JBM has performed miracles with this squad, trying to nurture players from the intercounty intermediate ranks to senior hoping they produce the goods. The current Cork side does not have any standout leaders out the field. Nash is an excellent keeper but then you struggle to see a player from Cork who will take the game by the scruff of the neck. There is certainly no John Gardiner, Rock O’Sullivan, O’Connor’s hurling caliber in the squad. JBM owes Cork nothing if he decides to walk way but his magical touch is not enough if the players on the pitch do not have the strength, desire, work rate to succeed. Cork’s lack of goal threat is an insult to the Cork hurling teams that have gone before. No target man upfront and the lack of support runners is damning. Cork will continue to struggle until their underage teams start to have success at minor and U21 levels. It is going to be a winter of extreme discontent in Cork and it will be interesting to see who the fall guys will be.
The Harty Cup is usually an accurate barometer on how counties are doing in terms of underage development (i.e. albeit there is Clare and Tipp players on some of the Limerick teams). Cork have struggled in recent years and it has only being this year that Blackwater and Rochestown have emerged to provide Cork a viable Harty Cup team contender. Some may point the finger at Frank Murphy, but there are other factors at play which will not be resolved overnight. The daggers are being sharpen and one would suspect that Marty Morrissey and media crew will be in Leeside for a couple of times during the off-season reporting on off the pitch news stories. Two good games today and the semi-finals should be decent provided Waterford and Galway do not have stage fright. For Dublin and Cork, the championship dreams are over and so starts a long period of reflection and analysis of their failings. Sport is fantastic but can be cruel – the winners are heroes and the losers are vilified for their efforts despite putting their lives on hold for the year.