Nicky English: If Cork reach Croke Park it could open up for them

Waterford’s pace, drive and running game was just too hot to handle for Galway

Cork’s Shane Barrett celebrates scoring a goal against Clare. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Cork’s Shane Barrett celebrates scoring a goal against Clare. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Cork and Clare was always impossible to call: proven battlers against potential and it stayed that way up until the 74th minute. Kieran Kingston must have feared the worst when Tony Kelly came in at goal – from his perspective the wrong man in absolutely the wrong position.

Kelly hit it well, if off his hurley, but Pa Collins stood up and saved not only the ball but Cork’s championship.

This was an outstanding finale to a great championship occasion with little to separate two differing styles – apart from Cork’s ability to find their scores that bit more easily.

My questions about Cork were largely answered on Saturday. Clare are a seasoned fighting unit and they don’t give up. A week previously they looked down and out after the Wexford comeback, but fought through to the end. Their work ethic is fanatical and team spirit all but unbreakable – with the Clare support as vociferously behind them as I’ve experienced in years.

When they hit the front in the final quarter, that was the test for Cork. We had seen the nice hurling and the pace of Jack O’Connor in his goal. Shane Kingston scored his goal and Luke Meade was doing well in the middle. Patrick Horgan did some good things but here they were up against it.

What had they got?

Robert Downey did exceptionally well to get a block in; so did Collins with an interception, and Séamus Harnedy stepped up in attack. Harnedy had got more possession than any Cork player but had not been productive. He did create Kingston’s goal but he hit too many wides and butchered a goal chance of his own, but in this vital period he stood up.

He won ball, he scored a point and maybe another that was waved wide. Instead of taking the point, he picked out Shane Barrett, who had shown well, as did the Cork bench in general, for a goal that looked to have put Clare away.

Spooked

Clare played exactly as it says on the Brian Lohan tin. From Rory Hayes at the back, who didn’t have one of his best days, as he looked a bit spooked by Jack O’Connor’s pace, but who worked away undaunted through John Conlon, who stayed strong and composed in the centre of the defence, to Cathal Malone, whose scores appeared to come any time Clare were under the cosh.

Aidan McCarthy and Ryan Taylor worked as hard as ever, even if some of the shooting was erratic. But above all else, their efforts revolved around a Tony Kelly tour de force in the second half. Niall O’Leary had a decent game on him up until then, but he took off from then.

Galway’s Joe Canning after his team’s defeat to Waterford. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Galway’s Joe Canning after his team’s defeat to Waterford. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

He initially fired Clare back into contention – and some of those scores were fantastic, out beside the Mackey Stand – and then, after Cork looked to have supplied the coup de grace, it was Kelly winning and converting the penalty that brought everything back into play.

I think Cork going forward have greater potential. They have serious pace in the middle third. If they can get through the quarter-final and reach Croke Park, the wide-open spaces will suit them.

Crucially, their defence looked more solid and had greater composure. Even the late inclusion of Downey at full back and Mellerick at wing back worked in their favour, and they handled the Clare attack well. Virtually anyone who played in the full forward line was replaced: Shanagher, Ian Galvin, Rogers. Only Tony Kelly defied restraint.

They’ll take a lot from Saturday’s result. Many people felt that if Clare were close in the last 10 minutes they’d have a great chance. Cork got into that cage and survived.

In Thurles, Galway proved yet again hard to trust. Their form over an extended championship period has been quite poor. On Saturday they were obliterated in the first half and looked unsure of themselves everywhere, particularly at the back, and pretty quickly any notion that the Dublin defeat had been a simple malfunction caused by overconfidence was shattered.

Serious beating

Their touch was poor and they looked very slow. They made numerous mistakes, handling errors, poor distribution and left themselves open to a serious beating from a good team.

What I hadn’t foreseen was that Waterford’s soul-searching in recent weeks would remedy things and find the right formula. Jamie Barron returned to the team and so their engine room was repaired.

Their pace, drive and running game combined with high-summer touch and scoring capacity was just far too hot to handle for Galway – as has been the historical pattern of the fixture in 11 out of 12 championship encounters.

By the time Jack Fagan scored his goal late in the first half, the game was over and not even the red card for Conor Gleeson could save Galway, who were actually outscored in the third quarter with a man advantage.

The remarkable thing about the comeback was that Galway managed to get to within a score – from being 16 down – while continuing to make the same sort of errors: sloppy handling, poor distribution, hesitancy in the defence, which was their undoing because they coughed up the points that kept Waterford sufficiently ahead.

Joe Canning was in much better form than against Dublin. He had a serious input to Saturday’s mini-revival and passed a career landmark. It’s a remarkable tally – 47-485 – he’s built up over the years to overtake Henry Shefflin as the championship’s top scorer.

It’s a fair reflection on one of the most remarkable hurlers to have played the game.

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