CORK LEGEND SEÁN Óg Ó hAilpín is confident his county will revive their challenge for the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2019, but he feels that the All-Ireland semi-final stage has become a ‘graveyard round’ for the Rebels.
The Munster champions crashed out at the final-four stage for the second consecutive season after an extra-time thriller against Limerick in which they coughed up a six-point lead in the closing stages of normal time.
The three-time All-Ireland winner believes that Cork would have prevailed in that tie had it been in the Munster championship, and he’s trying to figure out why the penultimate stage of the All-Ireland competition is proving difficult for them.
“As good as I’ve followed Cork teams and had been involved with some good teams, we’ve never beaten the teams in Munster like Cork have this year to retain it.
What kind of disappoints me more is if that semi-final game was down in Thurles against Limerick under the Munster Championship guise, they would have hammered Limerick.
Ó hAilpín’s gaze darts from left to right at the mention of the defeat as he sits in a Croke Park at the launch of the 2018 Croke Park Charity Challenge.
Despite hanging up the number seven jersey when he announced his inter-county retirement in 2012, he still feels the pain of a Cork defeat as acutely as ever.
The rebel blood still runs in his veins but he knows they will rise again next year.
“I don’t have the answers, I’m still trying to work it out that you have that same team, same players, and when they get here in a semi-final and the mettle is put to them, you just don’t see the same team from a month before in the Munster Championship.
They need to work more on that, because it seems to be the graveyard round for Cork. Getting to semi-finals is no issue now, winning semi-finals was up to a certain point no issue, Jesus Cork teams when they got here, if they got a sniff of whatever, they were going for it.
“Having said that, I would back this Cork group of players to come back. There was an element last year when Waterford beat us [in the semi-final] that come the 70 minutes people knew the game was over.
“This one really hurt, I’d imagine it did because basically it was there in the grass. As a player there was no harm in bottling that hurt over winter and going through. With a thought like that, you start to realise what an extra five per cent means after defeats like that.”
The younger players are impressing during this year’s championship with players like Limerick’s Cian Lynch excelling in midfield despite not being long out of the U21 grade. Similarly, Galway’s Conor Whelan has quickly established himself as a marquee forward at the age of just 21 after making his senior championship debut in 2015.
He will compete in his third All-Ireland final this weekend and looks to be in a strong position to collect a second All-Star award later this year.
Ó hAilpín has noticed a shift in how hurling is played which has lead to teams becoming more populated with younger talent.
“I think the focus has switched from physicality. From experience, physicality contested the stuff back then.
“If you were 23 or 24 you were only breaking onto the team, you had to sit on the bench to serve your time and make way for the likes of Jim Cashman and all these fella’s that had been there. That seemed to be the way back then.
Now the game has switched, it’s all about speed now. I’d imagine with that in mind, a lot of people are going for younger type players with a bit of speed.
“Because most coaches will realise now that if you get a fast guy in, he can do more damage to you than having a stationary guy under dropping ball that’ll pull all day.”
Former Cork hurler and footballer Seán Óg Ó hAilpín was speaking at the launch of the highly anticipated 2018 Croke Park Charity Challenge, organised by Alan Kerins in partnership with Self Help Africa.
The event will see people from the world of business,sport, media and entertainment partake in a charity sporting spectacle on the 23rd October to raise funds for Self Help Africa.
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