Cork and Dublin showings prove this is an open championship
Clare will be disappointed as it’s certainly taken a twist this past weekend
Clare’s Pádraic Collins reacts after missing one of his side’s goal scoring chance against Cork. The misses cost them the game. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Unfortunately, I haven’t mastered the art of bi-location. So, whilst Cork were yesterday emphatically defeating Clare before my eyes in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick in a one-sided, disappointing Munster semi-final, the word that filtered through to my ears that Dublin had drawn with Kilkenny in Portlaoise in the Leinster semi-final only served to re-affirm my view that this year’s championship could probably be the most open in years.
To be honest, I expected Dublin to run Kilkenny close. To be even more honest, however, I didn’t expect them to get as close as they did. Getting a draw against the All-Ireland champions is a fine result for Anthony Daly’s team but the greater significance is that the gap between Kilkenny and the rest is not as much as some people think.
The weekend results proved the championship is an open one, with plenty of shocks still in store and plenty of competitive games ahead of us.
Unfortunately yesterday’s Munster semi-final wasn’t so competitive, however. Clare were extremely disappointing, failed to take goal-scoring chances, were prone to errors – especially in defence – and tried to over-complicate matters.
Cork, though, made a statement of intent. It just shows that the league doesn’t always tell the whole story. Cork were clearly deserving winners, played the much simpler hurling and had plenty of skill up front to do the job. I thought the fact that Pa Cronin, Lorcan McLoughlin and Paudie O’Sullivan were missing would impact hugely on them but, as it turned out, their forwards showed a lot of class and answered the call in considerable style.
A number of them were very impressive. Séamus Harnedy epitomised the Cork approach. He double-jobbed: not only did he score three points, but he also kept Brendan Bugler quiet. Harnedy was part of a Cork half-forward line that didn’t allow the Clare half-backs to make the desired impact. Cian McCarthy also did very well and Conor Lehane, who was actually well-held for much of the match by Patrick O’Connor, did eventually come into it.
Luke O’Farrell continues to look a really good player. Every time the ball went into the full-forward line, he and Patrick Horgan looked dangerous. Jamie Coughlan, too, played well when he came on and, with Cronin and possibly McLoughlin to come back into the side for the Munster final with Limerick, I’m sure Jimmy Barry will be very pleased with the team’s development.
Clare were very disappointing. They collapsed in the second-half. The defensive errors which were evident in some of their league matches and in the championship win over Waterford returned to haunt them here. They tried to run the ball of defence so often in the second half and, time and time again, the play broke down. Their short game simply didn’t work. They tried to play a very complicated game and, really, the result proved that it is hard to beat simple hurling.
The decision by Cork to play into the wind proved to be a wise one. Clare needed to be in the lead by six or seven points at half-time and, although they started well enough, with Darach Honan on top of Stephen McDonnell when the ball came his way, their failure to take scoring opportunities – both points and goals – proved costly.
I counted a number of clear-cut goal chances that came Clare’s way. Paudge Collins blasted wide. Conor McGrath failed to gather a pass from Honan. Then, in the second-half, McGrath again had a great chance he struck wide and Seadna Morey had another opportunity. If they had taken these goal chances, it would have changed the game’s momentum. Cork were much superior all over the field, and this was reflected on the scoreboard.
Cork upped the tempo in the second-half with Daniel Kearney storming into it around the middle of the field. Their half-forwards contained the Clare half-backs, who were not the launch pad that would have been expected. When Cork turned around with the wind in the second-half, they cut into Clare’s half-time lead very quickly. They upped the game’s intensity and the scores from Harnedy, Coughlan and McCarthy were well-taken as they capitalised on some bad decision-making out of defence by Clare.
In many ways, Clare were the architects of many of their own problems with that propensity to make error after error in conceding frees and possession. Cork had the skill to capitalise and kept it simple and will have their tails up going into the Munster final next month.
It’s very dangerous to ever write Cork off in the championship and, with Tipperary out of the way as far as the provincial campaign is concerned, the stakes had been raised before this match. With some players due back from illness and injury, Cork will take momentum with them and kick on.
The hurling championship has certainly taken a twist this past weekend. Cork have upped their performance level and are definitely a factor. But Dublin’s draw with Kilkenny should be seen as further evidence that the championship is more open than it has been for years.