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Dublin: 2 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019
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Saturday Cork showdowns, Horgan points the way and a Harty Cup breakthrough

No shortage of hurling action in Cork yesterday.

The Cork hurlers and Midleton CBS both enjoyed victories yesterday.
The Cork hurlers and Midleton CBS both enjoyed victories yesterday.
Image: INPHO

A SHARP CONTRAST in post-match reactions.

The Saturday hurling programme of events concluded in Páirc Uí Rinn last night in a muted fashion, certainly paling in comparison to the outbreaks of excitement at the venue earlier in the day.

After debautes over pitch surfaces, stadium refurbishments and a chain of poor results, the focus of the Cork hurling fraternity switched to another venue yesterday. With Páirc Uí Chaoimh placed in cold storage until the summer, hurling storylines will play out on the Boreenmanna road until then.

The day’s affairs closed with a league meeting between Cork and Clare, ostensibly prized senior inter-county fare but in truth a match which encapsulated the diluted nature of Division 1A encounters to date in 2019.

4,737 spectators were drawn to a re-match of the last two Munster senior hurling finals, a February encounter that unfolded in a tame manner, certainly in the first half. Cork finished with a three-point victory but arguably the more significant successes occurred earlier in the day.

The underage hurling struggles that Cork have endured have been graphically illustrated by their woes at schools level. Last month’s semi-final showings ensured that 2019 would be a year of breakthrough in that regard. Four Cork schools convened in the afternoon at Páirc Uí Rinn with Rochestown College ousting Hamilton High Bandon in the curtain-raiser and Midleton CBS bettering CBC Cork in the glamour Dr Harty Cup decider.

The attendance of 7,089 summed up the public appetite for seeing elite young hurlers in action while also capturing the magnitude of the game from the county’s perspective. It was the first all-Cork final since 1994 and marked the first Cork title win since 2006. For Paudie O’Sullivan, on co-commentary duties for local radio station in C103, that tag of being the last Cork man to captain a successful Harty Cup side was removed.

13 years on he watched a cohesive and well-drilled Midleton CBS unit triumph. Their defensive resilience was particularly striking, protecting their goalmouth in the final quarter to keep a clean sheet and rattling the net at the other end to critical effect. The ground crackled with anticipation beforehand with the nature of the contest and the standard of the hurling justifying that billing.

Celebrations afterwards for Midleton CBS, despair for CBC Cork and in a wider sense a consideration of the far-reaching implications of this. It’s a springboard in different ways. Cork seniors Alan Cadogan (Rochestown College) and Seamus Harnedy (Midleton CBS) were taking some of their first forays into sideline activity as part of backroom teams. CBC Cork’s list of mentors was noteworthy for the presences of current Cork hurling selector Donal O’Mahony, ex-Cork football goalkeeper Ken O’Halloran and Tipperary hurler Michael Breen.

For the players involved the challenge is to keep climbing the rungs of the ladder. The provision of a pathway between the Harty Cup and the senior game was glaringly apparent yesterday. Twelve months ago Diarmuid Ryan was the fulcrum of the Ardscoil Rís side, last night he was maintaining his promise of recent weeks by snapping over points from the Clare half-forward line. On the Cork bench was a pair of youngsters – Ger Millerick and Sean O’Leary-Hayes – who suffered as part of a Midleton team in a Harty Cup decider last year against Ryan’s class in Limerick.

The evening fare brought a collection of recognisable talents with the presence of RTÉ and eir Sport punditry teams within yards of each other on the sideline offering proof that this was prime time live sport on a Saturday night. Fans present and viewers watching on may have felt short-changed early on. The contest increased in tempo as the match progressed, culminating with Cork left wondering how they managed to be victorious and Clare left wondering how they managed to be vanquished.

When Clare landed on Leeside last night, a scenario that entailed Tony Kelly shooting 0-6 in a display of attacking wizardry, John Conlon again proving an imposing focal point with a 0-4 return and Ian Galvin snapping over 0-4 in a bright showing, would have been snapped up by the Banner contingent before throw-in.

Restricting Cork to a single point from play in the first half and 1-5 from play over the 70 minute would surely have been envisaged beforehand as paving a path for Clare to victory. But the match was defined by the volume of frees Clare conceded and the clinical mood that Patrick Horgan was in.

The Glen Rovers man put on an exhibition in that department. He has previous in that regard, posting 2-53 (2-39 from placed balls) in his last five championship outings against Clare. For Clare there has been a recurring theme of frustration since that 2013 All-Ireland final replay in their meetings against Cork. Their attack can be mesmerising when they click but with Kevin Kelly scoring 1-11 from frees a fortnight ago for Kilkenny against them, a pattern is starting to develop, albeit they had grounds for complaint over a few of last night’s calls against them.

The victory ends Cork’s losing streak after four reversals between pre-season and league ties. Their attempts to improve a fractured work-rate, plug those rearguard gaps and trawl for talent to increase their depths are elements they will continue to hone in on.

Yesterday’s three matches will be shifted to the memory bank, the experiences will linger longer for some you’d suspect.

A trip to Limerick looms large for Cork next Sunday with Clare renewing acquaintances with their former boss as Wexford come to town. For the Cork schools in Munster final combat there will be All-Ireland exams to sit in early March.

All moving on as more challenges await.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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