‘Even at eight points down we believed we had a chance’
Cork selector Seánie McGrath says they will scour the county for the players they need
Cork players look on dejected after their defeat to Clare in Saturday’s final. Photogrpah: James Crombie/Inpho
Remarkably, the day after an All-Ireland hurling final comparable to a World War II spitfire battle, such was its jarring intensity, no one was badly wounded.
No visible scars anyway.
But in Cork, especially Cork with their hurling ancestry, the emotional damage runs deep.
It matters little that they contributed to a final already branded by many to be the greatest sporting spectacle since Cú Chulainn’s caman saw off Queen Maeve’s Connacht in the Táin Bó Cúailnge (not recognised as an official GAA competition as it took place in 1AD).
Two thousand years later it was another teenager who obliterated the Rebel raid.
“Imagine Shane O’Donnell going home to tell his mam and dad he was playing in an All-Ireland final and a couple of days later to get 3-3,” marvelled Cork selector Seánie McGrath. “What an occasion for him. I mean, Shane O’Neill played a reasonably good game, I felt.”
Cork’s trusty man marker was devoured by the 19-year -old. And yet O’Neill clung in there, producing a magnificent hook to deny O’Donnell a fourth goal on the stroke of half-time to ensure Cork only trailed by four points.
A rapid explosion of points from nailed-on All Star Séamus Harnedy, Pa Cronin and Patrick Horgan’s 0-2 had sparked the initial revival.
“But even at eight points down we believed we had a chance.” That sort of year was how McGrath put it.
But the story keeps going back to O’Donnell of Éire Óg. The Young Irelanders club in Ennis.
In the drawn final plenty of ball went in on top of Darach Honan – who Davy Fitzgerald revealed afterwards has been struggling with a 16 centimetre quad tear all summer – but the new-born foal running style of the sky-scrapping full forward yielded little change out of O’Neill.
O’Donnell’s frame is in stark contrast and the 27-year-old so blatantly struggled to contain his nippier turns and razor -sharp finishing. O’Neill was even outfoxed before O’Donnell posted his third point.
“We had a slight inkling that it might happen,” said McGrath of Fitzgerald’s late, late selection change, “because the one on ones in the full forward line the last day, like, they seemed to isolate that a lot.
“To be honest, I don’t think anybody could have expected the young fella to get 3-3.
“And Shane is, for me, one of the top defenders in the game at the moment so you still felt even (marking) a completely different physique (to Honan) he’d still be able to cope with it.
“The damage was done out the field where we weren’t curtailing them. They put great ball in. Any decent corner forward with that kind of ball is going to do damage.”
What hurts Cork so much is they were broken by an approach they have also embraced.
“Yeh, left to right, right to left (diagonal ball). That’s the type of game we try to play as well.
“Ah no, it has been a reasonably good year for Cork hurling. We got relegated into Division Two and are disappointed this morning but we are happy the way the season has gone.
“We are man enough to realise we have a couple of positions to shore up. It is quarter-final stage with the club championship at home now so that gives us three or four games to watch players at senior and intermediate and we’ll be on the lookout.”
That’s a filling crumb of comfort. McGrath believes there are other Harnedy’s to be plucked from relative obscurity.
“I think there are. What has been very good for us this year has been the Fitzgibbon Cup. Séamie had a fantastic Fitzgibbon Cup campaign this year. Then you have fellas like Christopher Joyce who was a very good minor but because of our underage lack of success not a whole lot of people outside the county would have seen Christopher. But we would have seen him on the club scene and colleges.
“We’ll scour the county. We know we have to find a few players. We’ll be critical of ourselves too.”
There are also footballers to entice like hurley maker and two-time All Star Aidan Walsh or the phenomenally gifted Ciarán Sheehan.
Rumour had it they were training with the hurlers of late.
“No, they didn’t come in at all . . . but if they want to come in the door is always open.
“In Cork the dual thing is huge and they are so integrated into the football set-up but they are physical, they are strong so it would be fantastic if they did come in.”