Cork selector Diarmuid ‘The Rock’ O’Sullivan betrayed more than a hint of frustration.
Following Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final win over Kilkenny, O’Sullivan was the man sent for media duty and, at the end, having fielded questions about the match that had just happened, it was put to him that the Rebels would be underdogs in the final against Limerick.
“Underdogs?” he asked, rhetorically.
“If you had to listen to the television and everything written and said today lads, Limerick’s name is already etched on the cup. Where do we go from there?
“They’re the greatest team that have played the game over the last number of years so we’ll come up and see how we get on and we’ll throw what we can at them.”
In the immediate aftermath of last weekend, the Shannonsiders were installed as 1/3 favourites with the bookmakers to make it three wins in four years – you have to go back to Cork’s three-in-a-row from 1976-78 for the last non-Kilkenny streak of dominance like that – and it may well be the case that John Kiely’s side continue the charge.
Regardless, it has been a strong year from Cork on all fronts, with clear progress compared to what has gone in the previous few seasons. On Monday night, the county won the Munster minor hurling title for only the second time since 2008, while next Tuesday sees the U20 side in with a chance of retaining the All-Ireland title, having ended a 22-year wait in claiming the 2020 title at the start of July.
When Seán Óg Ó hAilpín lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup and gave his speech as Gaeilge in 2005, nobody would have believed you if you’d said that Cork would begin a barren spell that surpasses the previous-longest wait for a senior title (1903-1916). The interim has brought fleeting highs and far too many lows, with semi-final defeats in 2014, 2017 and 2018 and no victory in Croke Park victory between 2013 and last weekend.
All of that changed on Sunday as Kieran Kingston’s side harnessed the momentum that they had accrued from the victories over Clare and Dublin.
In 2018, Cork had led Limerick – before they were the monster they are now – by six points with seven minutes left in the All-Ireland semi-final but were reeled in and lost in extra time. When a six-point advantage with five minutes remaining was wiped out by Kilkenny on Sunday, there might have been a modicum of fear that the greater experience of Brian Cody’s side would tell in the additional 20 minutes, but Cork reset and responded.
Decade of work
The landscape looks to have changed fairly suddenly, but the reality is that this is the culmination of a decade of work, with Cork having implemented a development-squad system back in 2011. In times past, given the pick available to Cork, minor and U21 All-Irelands happened almost automatically and those players fed into senior level but other counties had caught up with – and passed out – Cork and a change in approach was needed.
As with anything, patience is required with such a seismic shift but the fruits are now beginning to be seen. No matter what happens in the final, Cork are in a good place and I’m sure the rest of the country will applaud that, won’t they?
Dublin and Mayo set for another chapter in epic rivalry, while Tyrore thrown into disarray
When Mayo talisman Cillian O’Connor was ruled out for the championship after suffering an Achilles tendon injury, the county’s supporters might have feared the worst.
The Ballintubber man has been so central to all of Mayo’s big days over the past decade or so that contending without him must have seemed like an impossibility.
At half-time in the Connacht final against Galway in Croke Park, the obituary writers were ready, but instead a phenomenal second-half performance ensured that James Horan’s side retained provincial supremacy. The 1-3 from Ryan O’Donoghue, who assumed the responsibility of placed balls in O’Connor’s absence, and 1-2 from Matthew Ruane helped to offset the loss of O’Connor.
The make-up of the draw for the All-Ireland series means that Mayo’s next task is to stop Dublin’s drive for a seventh straight title. While nobody would ever say that Dublin are vulnerable, given the success enjoyed and the players still available, there is a feeling that they are a bit less unbeatable than they have seemed during their unprecedented run to six straight titles.
The loss of Stephen Cluxton has to have had an impact, given the influence he has brought to the group over the past two decades – and while they still came through Leinster relatively unscathed, Dessie Farrell’s side didn’t steamroll the opposition in the way that we have almost come to expect.
Does that mean that the stars are aligning for Mayo, or are Dublin just in a mode that allows them to peak for the All-Ireland semi-final and final? We’ll find out on Saturday evening.
We have heard the fatalistic prediction from those of an anti-Dublin and/or anti-Kerry bent that Mayo will win the semi but then lose to Kerry in the final.
Whoever comes through on Saturday will have an extra week of preparation for the decider as the Kerry-Tyrone semi-final has been put back a week due to Covid-19 complications amongst the Tyrone squad, with the final itself also put back.
The moving of the Kerry-Tyrone game means the novel U20 final meeting of Offaly and Roscommon will now be paired with the Cork-Meath ladies semi-final – a move that is only right when you consider the other ladies semi final between Dublin and Mayo is the Saturday curtain raiser. CL