Christy O’Connor on the lack of goals which is holding Cork hurling back.
WHEN Tipperary beat Cork in last year’s Munster championship, the game was defined by Tipperary’s change of gear in the last quarter when they just stepped on the gas and pulled away.
On Sunday, Cork produced a far better performance and they almost produced a result from a superb match.
Forensically analysing Sunday’s Munster semi-final though, there were still some glaring similarities with last year’s game.
Cork hit one point more (0-24) than they hit against Tipp last May.
Yet Cork should have scored three goals in the first half of last year’s match.
On Sunday, Cork also could have had at least two first-half goals, possibly three.
In a game of such tight margins, Cork’s failure to hit the net was hugely decisive for the second year in a row.
Two of those goal chances were huge opportunities — Darren Sweetnam’s in the third minute and Jamie Coughlan’s in the 18th minute.
When Paudie O’Sullivan won a ball in the 21st minute, he made a quick pickup and notched a lovely point.
O’Sullivan was around 40 metres from goal and a point was the right option at the time but Jamie Coughlan was inside him and a two-on-one goal option was there.
When Richie Power got the ball in a similar position on Saturday evening against Dublin, there was far less on and far more bodies between him and the goal, yet Power dropped his shoulder, foraged his way through before setting up a goal for TJ Reid.
Cork haven’t been a goalscoring team like Kilkenny in the last 10 years but they need to develop that lust for goals to try and get up to the next level.
On all levels though, Cork’s performance on Sunday was really impressive.
They made more plays (166) to Tipperary’s (162).
That may in part be due to the fact that Cork had an extra man for the last 25 minutes but that play count is high.
During the first half, Cork’s hook-block-tackle count was on a par with Kilkenny on a good day.
During that 35 minutes, Cork made 19 hooks-blocks and tackles, compared to Tipperary’s `10. Shane O’Neill, in particular, made an outstanding contribution to that figure but Cork’s overall workrate was giving Tipperary little or no time on the ball.
In that first half, the Tipperary defenders cleared the ball on just 12 occasions.
Cork’s efficiency in hooks-blocks-tackles though, dropped after the break when Tipp won that stats category 9-6.
Cork also did really well on puckouts early in the match.
They won nine of the first 10 puckouts but Tipp eventually got a grip and won that stats category 27-26.
Similar to last year too, Tipp were also that bit more efficient with their stick passing.
That stats category has to be qualified with the limited amount of time players have on the ball now but Tipp were able to get their forwards into the game more, and give them more of an advantage, with the quality of ball they played into their attack.
In total, Tipp played 24 accurate stick-passes, while they hit 13 inaccurate stick-passes.
Cork played 21 accurate stick-passes, while they hit 18 inaccurate stick-passes.
Tipp’s greater experience in that sector really told and in a game of such tight-margins, especially having an extra-man, that was effectively the difference.
Cork had some huge performers. Eoin Cadogan made more plays (18) than anyone else on the field.
He held the centre well but his contribution has to be measured against that of Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher, who once more, was probably the most influential player on the field.
From his 17 plays, Maher set up five points, won a converted free and a converted ’65, while he also made a massive contribution in engineering Tipp’s goal.
Conor O’Sullivan also had an excellent game, especially in the second half, making 14 plays in total.
Lorcán McLoughlin was Cork’s joint-second in the play count, with 14 plays.
In the first half, McLoughlin and Darren Sweetnam made a combined total of 19 plays. That was directly comparable to that of Brendan Maher and Shane McGrath (also a combined total of 19 first half plays) but that parity gave Cork a significant platform in the first half.
Overall, Paudie O’Sullivan was Cork’s most efficient performer.
From 12 plays, he scored three points, won two converted frees and set up another point.
That was a marked difference from his display in the league final when he made just two plays.
Another huge factor in the game was Cork’s struggles to win enough ball up front and get their attack into the game in the second half.
In that second half, the Cork attack made a paltry 27 plays.
Cork’s two go-to forwards – Patrick Horgan and Conor Lehane – made just four second-half plays between them.
Lehane is still very young but Cork still need more from him and Horgan.
Although Cian McCarthy was criticised for missing a gilt-edged late chance that would have reduced the deficit to one point (which possibly would have put Cork in a position to draw the game) McCarthy made a decent contribution when he came on, making six plays, scoring a point and setting up two more.
It was a disappointing result for Cork but they showed what they are capable off.
The priority now is to build on it. And unlike last year, when they capitulated afterwards, they will.