So much for Super Sunday. The final day Munster Championship group stages turned out to be a collapsed soufflé of an afternoon, with Cork scattering a hopeless Tipp side in Thurles and Clare rinsing an equally barren Waterford in Ennis. A round of games that began with every team having something to play for turned out to have people checking the soccer scores by half-time. The hurling certainly had no mysteries left to reveal.
In Ennis, Clare were able to keep Tony Kelly and John Conlon confined to barracks and still emerge with 12 points to spare over Waterford. Another pair of dazzling displays by Shane O'Donnell and Peter Duggan had them flashing over scores from all points on the globe, while Rory Hayes and Conor Cleary went on manners-teaching patrol in defence. By the end, they had run up a 3-31 to 2-22 scoreline, which wildly flattered a Waterford team from whom all juice had long-since been squeezed.
The rapid demise of the league champions has been the story of the championship and its final chapter here was the most macabre of the lot. Liam Cahill made a raft of changes but conceded afterwards that it was as much to try and front up offering something new rather than anything they'd been able to refine.
“We didn’t perform to our capabilities in Walsh Park last week and that’s always been our mantra – that if you don’t perform we feel we have a good, strong panel of players behind me on the subs bench who get their opportunity to step in. So we tried that and it obviously didn’t work in a lot of areas. Look, it’s bitterly disappointing. I can’t really explain why we arrived today in the way we arrived.
“Nobody went out for that to happen. I know the players are hurting massively inside. They really know that’s not a true reflection on them, and even last Sunday of their true selves. I have no problem in saying that it’s my responsibility to have them right too, it’s my job to get them right when they hit the white lines to perform and I have to look at that as well.
“Maybe we didn’t get it right from a preparation perspective. I don’t know. But whatever happened over the last three weeks hasn’t been good and I’m just so disappointed for the players who put in all the work.”
Asked if he would be returning to take the team for a fourth season in 2023, Cahill was far from emphatic that he would.
“Today is obviously very disappointing. It’s something we won’t make a rash decision on now. From my side, I just wonder what else can be done to bring these guys to the next level. I’m quite happy to sit down with these players – I have a very, very good healthy relationship with every one of these players. They’re extremely honest men. Before I do anything I will definitely sit down with them to see where their heads are at before we do anything rash.”
In Thurles, Tipperary did at least put up an early flurry of resistance against Cork. They led by four points early on and as Noel McGrath stood over a first-half penalty, there was at least a brief moment for Tipperary people to talk themselves into a miracle. With Waterford going seven behind early in Ennis, a Tipperary goal at that point would have at least raised the possibility of things getting interesting.
Alas, McGrath's penalty was smartly saved by Patrick Collins. Alack, Cork had the ball in the net at the other end in the next breath as Alan Connolly buried Cork's first goal of the day. Conor Lehane equalised soon after and Cork were never behind again. In the end they ran out 3-30 to 1-24 winners to qualify in third place out of the Munster group.
"Cork people love their hurling and I suppose when you get to an All-Ireland final and league final, expectation goes up," said Kieran Kingston afterwards. "Then you don't deliver and criticism goes up accordingly but that's the game we're in and we have to deal with that as a management team and as players and we can deal with that.
“We’re privileged to be in the position we’re in as players and management and not everyone can or would take the risk of doing what we do. That’s what makes intercounty players and management and backroom team and all that goes with it different. If it wasn’t different, then you wouldn’t have 30,000 people coming to see them play.
“Cork supporters are awesome but of course there was negativity out there – we would think some of it unjustified, but then again, that’s our view. You know what they say about opinions!”