IT MIGHTN’T go down as one of the more relevant Munster finals in the grand scheme of things but there were markers laid down.
Cork are learning to be more fluid in moving the ball to attacking positions. Cork now have many (too many?) options around the team from 8-15.
And it might be the day that marked the beginning of Ciarán Sheehan’s movement from the list of promising youngsters to serious players at senior level.
That it was only Clare – who were defensively naive and just outmatched really – puts a don’t-get-carried-away asterisk next to the result and any alleged lessons learned.
If Sheehan had given this kind of performance against a Kerry or Dublin, we’d be entitled to get really excited; as it is, we can see signs of him becoming a top-tier player pretty soon.
On the real basic traditional level, Sheehan delivered. Four points from play from five shots, and the miss hit the post up high. The type of point had a nice mix too.
The first arrived after he snuck in behind his marker on the wing and took a quick free from Paudie Kissane, ran 30thirty metres and slipped it over on the run from the left side of goal. The second came from winning a break from a kick-out and a wallop from 10 metres from the right.
The third from the throw-in, another distance score, centrally this time. The fourth after he backed up play from behind, and again, from distance. The distance issue will prove more important as summer goes on and say, Donegal or the Dubs are potential opponents, when scoring half-forwards become gold dust.
Add three assists and another four chances created on the ball, and it’s a good day’s work on the stats board.
The real bonus was the playmaking. In a short Cork career, Sheehan has already been a ball-winning number 14 and a modern wing-forward; now he showed he can be a top number 11 as well.
He offered himself as a link between defence and the inside-forward line and every time he got possession — usually just inside the Clare half — he looked long, direct and tried to pick out a man rather than just banging it in there.
One cameo in the 13th minute showed all his talent – a catch over his marker from a long kick out of defence, acceleration to get into space, and a lovely 40-metre pass into space for Colm O’Neill, who scored. Ten minutes later he did the exact same for Donncha O’Connor.
Sheehan’s variety and range of kickpassing — and of receivers, sometimes a guy kicks to the same forward all the time — kept Cork ticking over and it isn’t a side we’ve seen to him all that often on the wing. A half-forward who can score from distance, make playsplaymake, fieldwin ball in the air, has pace, energy and puts in a shift – that sounds like a decent package.
It was too much for Clare, who tried several different markers to halt his influence, but generally failed. It will, of course, be harder to find room to get possession, space to get a kickpass away and even to find targets to hit against the type of defensive systems Cork will face from here on, but Sheehan has the smarts to adapt.
The questions for Conor Counihan before next day out include whether the placing of Sheehan at number 11 made this difference (freed as he was from the up-and-down, defensive responsibility nature of wing-forward), and how best to get the most from Sheehan and Paddy Kelly together.
It was noticeable how Sheehan didn’t allow himself to drift too deep into Cork’s half to get on ball and his possessions were almost all in Clare’s half of the field. It made him the obvious link, kept the shape of attack well and gave thethat option for defenders coming out with ball to hit.
It didn’t even need to be perfect ball; Sheehan won three great balls over his head from long kicked passes in his general direction. It might only be a subtle difference in the days of fluency in forward positions, but perhaps Sheehan at 11 and Kelly to 10 would be more beneficial to both, with Kelly more naturally inclined to float deep and to the wings anyways, and Sheehan closer to goals, being a little more dangerous on the scoreboard.
I’ve a history with Ciarán Sheehan, I must add. Back around 2004 I covered an U14 county final between Nemo and Éire Óg on a wet, windy, wintery day out in Brinny.
What made the soaking worthwhile was the shoot-out between a willowy, graceful centre-forward for Éire Óg who had the look of something a bit special (Sheehan) and an absurdly skilful centre-forward for Nemo (Barry O’Driscoll) and I remember writing in my notebook — MUST be future Cork seniors.
This wasn’t an act of great scouting or predictive ability; they really were that good even at a young age. But through all the potential pitfalls — fall in form, disinterest, other sports, injury (though injury had a go with a horrible cruciate last year) — Sheehan has filled out and developed into a serious player at just 21.
That O’Driscoll hasn’t quite yet made that leap is probably due to bad luck, timing and the level of competition in the forward line. Still, there’s something pleasing about seeing a guy you picked for stardom, and bored people by blabbering on about, become a real player.
Worries from last Sunday?
That the Munster final was essentially a non-event (though griping about seeding and all that seem a bit over the top, this doesn’t happen all that often to be a problem – there are greater reasons for tampering with the championship) and the obviousness of the gap between strong and weak.
That Cork now head to an All-Ireland quarter-final cold, again though, given the competition for places, A v B games should be tasty.
The goal chances given up and the generally open feel to the Cork defence, especially following on from similar against Kerry, is a concern that must be dealt with sharply.
All the kudos go to the Cork attack though, and Ciarán Sheehan, for now.