Banner to be unfurled at end of a terrific year
Cork can improve considerably on the drawn match but it might not be enough to catch a gifted Clare team who are also getting better
Clare and Cork stand to attention before the national anthem prior to the start of the drawn All-Ireland final earlier this month. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Hurling this evening gets the chance to sign off on the 2013 championship with a great finale to a memorable season. It will be the first All-Ireland final to be played fully under the Croke Park lights – which were briefly switched on for the hurling final two years ago – and it takes place on the 85th anniversary of the passing of Liam MacCarthy, whose eponymous trophy will within hours be on its way to Cork or Clare.
Maybe it’s the fear of being accused of inconstancy but back-tracking on original predictions between draw and replay is relatively rare. This All-Ireland hurling final replay however puts extreme pressure on anyone who felt that Cork would win the first match.
The outcome still remains precariously balanced because the drawn match left in its wake so many intangibles. Yet the options thrown up three weeks ago can be reduced to a stark choice between Cork’s scope for improvement and Clare’s manifest superiority.
Psychologically, who gets the replay bounce? Clare dominated to a staggering extent and would have been devastated to lose. They coughed up a five-point lead with 15 minutes left – not a massive buffer by hurling standards but reflective of a team comfortably on top. There has to be a nagging anxiety that they may pay the price for not winning the first day.
Yet similar considerations apply to Cork. True, they got pinned on the ropes for so long during the drawn match that were the boxing ring not metaphorical they’d have been beaten to death but crucially, thanks to the virtuosity of Patrick Horgan’s conjuror’s trick of a point in injury-time, they led an All-Ireland final with just seconds (plus!) on the clock.
In other words who exactly left behind the better chance?
The trusted old rules of the replay are: who has learned more from the draw and who has most room to improve?
Although the assumption would be that Cork must be the answers to both a) and b) that is not necessarily the case. Clare after all have discovered that Cork actually do possess a goal threat and even if consensus discourages reverting to a sweeper system, there’d be nothing too disruptive about simply paying more attention in defence.
The issue of improvement isn’t as cut and dried as aspects of the drawn match suggest.
For all of their exuberance, Clare allowed the high level of accuracy that distinguished their semi-final win over Limerick to slip and although they haven’t been banging in goals this year, they had managed six in their previous four matches (including two in extra-time against Wexford).
In many ways the first day represented a Herculean struggle by Cork. Beaten all over the field they somehow clung on to a match that they led for less than two minutes.