John Gardiner: With the buzz around Cork hurling it feels like 2003 all over again

The42 columnist John Gardiner runs the rule over Cork’s first Munster title since 2014

LOOKING AT THE crowd in Thurles today, the Cork fans are getting behind this new group of players. It felt like 2003 all over again. That was the year we reached our first Munster final in three years, and the win over Waterford sealed my first provincial medal.

Paul Flynn and John  Gardiner 29/6/2003 John Gardiner tackles Paul Flynn during the 2003 Munster final Source: INPHO

The supporters that day down in Thurles were brilliant, and they were outstanding again today. You could feel the buzz around before the match and the players are really feeding off the supporters. There’s a big connection there again between this team and the fans.

It’s all down to the risk Kieran Kingston took this year going with five championship newcomers. It’s not often the five of them will repay you though. If you go back to our All-Ireland wins in 1999 and 2003, we had five or six players coming into the team at the same time and turned things around. I’m not saying this year will end up the same, but when you such a big return from your new fellas it gives the older guys a huge boost.

Alright, some of the younger guys take a while to get into games. You could see it again today with Shane Kingston, who took a long time to get into the swing of things. But you had Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman and Colm Spillane who were outstanding again.

Stephen McDonnell Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

For such a young guy Coleman is a brilliant player. For me, he’s definitely been Cork’s best performer over the three games they’ve played so far. The way he cut that sideline over in the second-half of a Munster final at 19 years of age just summed him up really. But there were two instances after that that really impressed me.

The first one he came bursting out with the ball and played a lovely delivery into the forward line. The second time he won a ball, drove out with it and took his point. On both occasions he took the right option. For a guy so young, he seems to make the correct decision 100% of the time. He looks like he’s been on the scene for years. He’s been some find.

But Cork wouldn’t have lifted their first Munster title since 2014 without the experienced core. Alan Cadogan was excellent, Seamus Harnedy put in a huge workmanlike performance and Patrick Horgan managed to break Christy Ring’s scoring record for the county today. It was a massive day for him.

Anthony Nash and Damian Cahalane celebrate Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

A lot of the talk before the game surrounded Anthony Nash and how Clare would try to counter-act his puck-outs. Clare would have recognised that his puck-outs are an issue because they usually go long and when the likes of Conor Lehane win the ball on the half-forward line they tend to do major damage from there.

So Clare tried to cut that out by pulling all their men back out for the Cork restarts. They dropped the corner-forwards and half-forwards deep in an obvious attempt to shut down Nash’s deliveries onto the Cork half-forward line. Clare were hoping the extra bodies would help them win the ball on their own half-back line so they could attack from there.

But what Clare didn’t account for was the big wind that was there in the first half. Nash pucked the ball 20 yards to Damien Cahalane, who used his keeper as an outlet again. At that point Nash was in an offensive position where he could drill the ball in over all the bodies on the Clare half-back line into Cork’s three most dangerous players – Cadogan, Horgan and Seamus Harnedy.

So Cork’s most experienced forwards were getting good quality ball hopping in front of them. You could see Clare’s full-back line were under serious pressure from the outset. You could see what Clare were trying to do but it ended up putting their full-back line under severe pressure.

Cork supporters celebrate Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Cork supporters on the terrace Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Clare were probably fortunate to be five points down at half-time. Cork nailed most of their chances in the first-half. Clare had a goal chance that hit the woodwork and straight away Cork put a direct ball bouncing in front of Cadogan. Seconds later the ball was in the net.

The missed penalty was a huge opportunity missed for Clare, especially because they had just two players in the full-forward line. Goal chances were always going to be at a premium.

After Cadogan’s 11th minute goal, Cork didn’t score for another 10 minutes. But Clare managed just two points in that period. In contrast, Clare didn’t score from the 16th to the 32nd minute. During that spell Cork scored 0-5. That was a big turnaround.

Cork didn’t score from a free up until the 27th minute. Horgan slotted that one over and Clare conceded four more points from frees up until half-time. That was a sign of the pressure the Clare full-back line were under. The two corner-back were eventually taken off.

Clare had some good passages of play but their shooting left them down. They had a lot of bodies in midfield but they were taking shots from way out the field and they hit wide after wide when they could have worked the ball in a bit more.

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Kieran Kingston celebrates at the final whistle Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

In the form these Cork forwards are in, they’re confident they’ll outscore any team with points. Cork were happy to protect their goals and leave Clare to shoot from out the field.

Man for man, Clare are probably the most skilfull hurlers in the championship. I just feel they’re stifling themselves at the minute with the possession-based system they’re using.

The Cork guys will go back to their clubs for a couple of weeks and they it’s full steam ahead for the All-Ireland semi-final. The gap will give them the chance to get the likes of Lehane and Shane Kingston back up to full fitness. Kieran Kingston will be saying decades of the rosary that none of them will get injured in the club matches.

Kieran Kingston Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

After beating Tipperary, Waterford and Clare, the Rebels are in the last four of the All-Ireland. I think Croke Park will really suit their style of play, with the crossfield balls and the confidence their forwards are playing with. On form Cork and Galway are in pole position as far as I can see.

With Kilkenny gone every team left in the championship will feel like they’ve a right chance.

These Cork guys are a fairly level headed bunch so I don’t think the increasing expectation will affect them too much. Their element of surprise is certainly gone now and I feel the All-Ireland semi-final will be their most difficult test.

Semi-finals are all about winning. The minors are preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final too and all of a sudden things are looking bright in the Rebel County. You wouldn’t have expected it at the start of the year, but we’re certainly not complaining.

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John Gardiner

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