In this All Ireland Senior Hurling semi-final preview, we look at the Cork challenge which has seen John Meyler’s charges retain their Munster SHC title this season. A team brimming with speed and talent, Cork will be a difficult juggernaut to stop this weekend. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the Rebels.
Path to All Ireland Semi-Final:
The Munster SHC round robin was an interesting competition phase for Cork. Their opening home win late over a determined Clare challenge laid the foundations but questions were raised against Tipperary and Limerick on the side’s ability to produce a full seventy minute performance. The draw against Limerick at home exposed shot selection issues and allowed fourteen man Limerick to salvage a last gasp draw.
The bye week came at a good time for Cork management and players; a chance for the camp to regroup and improve on certain areas. Their last round robin fixture against Waterford was a banana skin fixture as the Deise with no pressure gave Cork all they could handle for sixty minutes but Seamus Harnedy’s goal was decisive as Cork won the fixture by three points to secure a provincial final berth against Clare.
A story of two halves for Cork in the Munster SHC final. Clare dominated the opening period; their running game causing the Cork back line numerous problems and the threat of John Conlon inside at full forward looked to be a decisive game winning moment. However, the resilience of this Cork side shone through again. The middle third dominated the aerial battle in the third quarter and from being four points down at the break, Cork strode out to a lead that they would never relinquish. As the game opened up and back lines tired, Cork’s hurling skill in attack shone through with Pa Horgan superb.
Several Cork standouts in this side. Anthony Nash in goals is the game’s best distributor from a puck out situation. His unerring accuracy to find Cork options in the middle third has being to the fore and Limerick will need to be on their guard this weekend to the Kanturk’s netminder quick puck outs either short or long range. The keeper is a superb shot stopper and is a leading candidate for an All Star this season. A pivotal last few weeks of the intercounty season could see the goalkeeper All Star switch from Kilkenny’s Eoin Murphy to Nash. Interesting times.
The back line unit is solid, defensively tight and capable of assisting in the scoring stakes. Damien Cahalane is the lynchpin of the Cork full back line; his command of the position and ability to organize around him are key traits. The half-back line options are excellent with Mark Coleman the natural standout; his distribution to the forward line is exceptional and his ability to hit long range side line cuts makes the Blarney club man a potent weapon in this All Ireland series.
The midfield area has the right mix of youth and experience. The speed merchant that is Darren Fitzgibbon has being to the fore this season; his ability to outstrip back line defenses with probing runs from deep has yielded several quality scores from play. He is complemented superbly by Bill Cooper whose defensive nous provides protection for the Cork back line unit; Cooper is also capable of chipping in with several scores from play. A class midfield duo partnership.
The forward line is loaded with slick pace and hurling talent. Where do you start? Conor Lehane and Shane Kingston have consolidated their excellent performances of last season. Lehane’s ability to score from long range and to find space in the middle third is a real asset; his relationship with Nash on the puck outs is a key facet of play. Kingston has excelled in recent fixtures; pace and power with an eye for goal.
Seamus Harnedy like Lehane and Kingston has continued in an upward curve this season. His leadership to the fore in the wins over Waterford and Clare in the provincial final in particular. Harnedy’s goal poaching exploits when making runs from deep has caused opposition full back lines serious problems. Harnedy has being the perfect foil for Pa Horgan to impress; the Glen Rovers is just quality. His ability to hit off either side, his ability on placed balls, his game management and work rate sets the tone for the rest of the forward line unit. A class act and a leading contender for HOTY honors this season.
Cork’s passing game through the lines with speed and pace this season has caused endless problems for opposition. The first touch of Cork this season has being sensational at times and their ability to pass the ball to a colleague without breaking stride has created numerous scoring chances. Coleman, Joyce, Fitzgibbon, Meade have reveled in this facet of play.
Resiliency has being a keyword associated with Cork this season. John Meyler and side have shown great composure to pull out several results this season. The Munster SHC final was a perfect example; struggled for tempo and cohesion in the opening half but hung in there until half-time where a late 1-1 gave them the lifeline to roar into the second half. Fight and determination aplenty in this side.
Cork’s skill set is superb; if the All Ireland semi-final defensive structures loosen sufficiently, then Cork’s inside forward line will fancy their chances of creating goal scoring chances. Pa Horgan and Seamus Harnedy are serious threats inside and when you consider the half forward options available, good things will happen for Cork.
There has being performance inconsistency with Cork this season. Every contest has seen Cork struggle for a period of the game. Clare in the round robin game were in contention until the last ten minutes when Cork produced a strong finish to win. Tipperary game saw Cork stride out in front with a big lead in Thurles only to be pegged back in the second half; the middle third was dominated in the third quarter. Limerick game saw Cork look a bit ponderous with ball in hand allowing Limerick to secure a draw. Waterford had good moments in the opening period. You get the trend; Cork have yet to produce a complete full game performance. Limerick will be forewarned that it is not them that experiences this.
Croke Park. This group of players are under pressure to deliver at HQ this weekend after last season’s cameo. Cast your mind back twelve months, Cork were riding on a crest of a wave. Munster SHC kingpins. Confidence soaring with fans talking of a potential All Ireland. The All Ireland Semi-Final against Waterford was a video nightmare; nothing went right for Cork on the day. Waterford exposed aerial mismatches (Brick Walsh on Coleman) paid good dividends and with Cork having to chase the game, Waterford’s running game created a couple of goal chances which were dispatched. Throw in the red card for Pa Horgan. Enough said. Limerick will look to prey on these fears and if they can take Cork down the stretch, the gremlins from twelve months past may surface.