Diarmuid O’Sullivan: The time has come for fresh blood in Cork

Zero punches pulled here!


It’s been a disappointing year for the Rebels as they exited the All-Ireland Hurling Championship at the quarter-final stages on Sunday.

The Rebels were cleaned out in the second half, as Kilkenny ran out comprehensive 2-27 to 3-18 winners. All this came after Cork went into the break with a two-point lead and the defeat saw the county’s proud record of an All-Ireland in every decade go up in smoke.

In the wake of the defeat, we sat down with Cork legend and Paddy Power News GAA ambassador Diarmuid O’Sullivan to discuss all the issues The Rebels now face.

Settle yourself in…

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Paddy Power News (PPN): What did you make of Cork performance on Sunday?

Diarmuid O’Sullivan (DOS): My first reaction is Sunday’s defeat to Kilkenny was more disappointing than last year’s loss in the semi-final to Limerick. It’s certainly the harder one accept. There were two key periods in the game, the first being when Cork went 1-01 to no score ahead and from the sixth minute on – after Alan Cadogan missed his chance – to the 15th minute, Kilkenny totally blitzed Cork and found a period of dominance.

Cork had some gilt-edged opportunities that they didn’t take and that is something that has dogged them all season. Then you had the start of the second half up to the 52nd minute, Kilkenny ended up eight points clear after being a couple down at half-time.

That was a huge gap for Cork to bridge and as much as they tried through Patrick Horgan and Alan Cadogan, they just couldn’t do it. Kilkenny learned from their Leinster final mistakes and just pulled away, hitting the last four scores of the game. Cork got caught cold at the start of the second half. I said to someone Sunday morning, that if Kilkenny are going to win, then Richie Hogan will have a major impact on it.

Brian Cody wasn’t going to take a chance on just throwing Richie Hogan out there. He ended up with 1-2, won a few frees and set up a couple of more scores. Hogan had a massive involvement in the game. He used all of his cuteness and wherewithal for the link up with Colin Fennelly for Hogan’s goal, you saw all of his experience when he ran onto that flick. That was Kilkenny hurling in a nutshell. It was years work clicking into play for them. Cork’s half-forward line didn’t help them out either, none of them scored and all of them were taken off.

The most defining moment of the whole game, and one that signalled to me that Cork wouldn’t beat Kilkenny, came when Bill Cooper collided with Richie Hogan. Hogan came onto a break of a ball in the second half, he knew in his heart and soul that Bill Cooper was coming to inflict damage on him and he still didn’t care. Hogan went through that ball, took a shuddering belt, he hit the ground and he jumped back up straight away. Cooper was left down on the ground receiving attention after it. Cooper put everything into that like he always does, but it just goes to show you the siege mentality Kilkenny have. It doesn’t matter to them if it’s going to hurt.

That’s the dark place we spoke about last week, you have to go there to defeat Kilkenny. Until you actually face that beast, people will never fully appreciate what I mean. Cody knows that this is not their greatest hurling squad, but they have a commitment and hunger about them. Unfortunately, the majority of the Cork hurling team turned up without it on Sunday.

PPN: Anthony Daly described Cork as ‘the flakiest team in the country’ in the Examiner on Monday, are they?

DOS: I believe Anthony Daly is being very harsh. In one sentence he’s saying ‘I don’t like questioning the character of players’ and in another, he’s calling Cork ‘the flakiest team in the country’. Which is it? He trying to sit on the fence there and be clever, but if Anthony Daly genuinely believes that Cork are the flakiest team in the country, then just come out and say it.

Don’t mind saying ‘I don’t like criticising players because I know what they go through’ – that’s bulls**t.

If you have something to say and you want to call someone out on it, at least have the balls to be honest about it, but this thing of trying to box clever doesn’t sit well with me.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Daly. But to call Cork that is very unfair of him. If he looked back through the sides he played with, there was a lot of flaky lads in those Clare teams too. It’s not an accurate description of that Cork team at all. ‘Inconsistent’ would be the word I would use about them.

‘Flaky’ is a very strong accusation and I’d be disappointed with Daly, who knows what it takes to climb the steps of the Hogan Stand and collect Liam MacCarthy, for using that term about Cork. But he’s entitled to his opinion I suppose.

PPN: It’s now six consecutive losses in Croke Park for Cork, is it starting to become a hoodoo?

DOS: There’s a much bigger picture than Cork’s recent record in Croke Park to look at. We had an incredible proud record of winning an All-Ireland Hurling title in every decade since the 1890s, that’s gone now.

Talk of hoodoos are all bo**ocks, that’s only people looking for things to talk about.

Okay, Cork’s record in Croke Park hasn’t been great, but I don’t buy into all this stuff about it being a hoodoo. I like to look at the bigger picture. Cork haven’t won an All-Ireland now since 2005 and failed for the first time to win one in every decade since the 1890s, that’s more of a worry. They’re bigger things than any hoodoo.

PPN: Is it the end of the road for John Meyler as Cork boss?

DOS: I don’t know if it is. He’s an independent man and he is still in the role until the end of the season. It’s up to him if he sees fit to stay on to carry this Cork team forward.

There’s potentially a big influx of youth coming from the u20s and it’s up to John on whether he thinks he’s the right man to bring them in. It’s his decision on if he puts his hand up again to keep going. It’s not for me to decide.

PPN: Have the County Board some tough decisions to make?

DOS: There are tough decisions in everything. If you look at the season as a whole, Sunday was just a culmination of a disappointing Championship campaign. Cork had conceded nine goals and 134 points in this season’s Championship at the final whistle on Sunday in six games, that’s an average of 26.8 points a game.

Is that good enough to win, or even be competitive in the latter stages of any Championship? It’s certainly not.

On the attacking side, they scored 10 goals 156 points and Patrick Horgan scored 7-62 of that. Next in line was Alan Cadogan with 1-18 (keep in mind he only played five of the six games) and Seamus Harnedy was third with 1-16. You have to judge Cork on their six Championship games and not just on Sunday’s showing.

They’ve had three defeats in Championship and there didn’t seem to be a ‘Plan B’ in evidence on Sunday. Kilkenny had 12 different scorers on Sunday, Cork only had five. You are putting yourself under all sorts of pressure by doing that.

Conor Lehane hasn’t had his best season and he’d be the first man to admit that. But, you could go through seven, eight or nine guys in various positions on that Cork team, with huge experience, who are in the same boat. It just hasn’t been a great year for them.

PPN: What did you make of Cork’s puck-out strategy?

DOS: Cork abandoned their puck-out strategy in the second half against Kilkenny. They hit 13 short puck-out throughout the game, the vast majority in the second period and granted they won all 13 of them, but it was what they did with the ball after that.

When Cork went short, they took one pass too many. If you are doing that, you might pop on the ball once, but then you have to move it.

Cork kept trying to look for perfection, it just didn’t work.

Kilkenny conceded the short puck-out to Cork in the second half, they drew the battle lines and basically said to Cork, ‘try and pierce us if you can’. They set their wall across the 65 daring Cork to try and get in there. It was unbelievable smarts from Brian Cody and his gang.

You can criticise Anthony Nash all you want for a few balls going astray, but this is a season-long problem. On Sunday though, when he went looking for guys who wanted the ball, there weren’t too many fellas willing to make that run.

PPN: Does this Cork team need freshening up now?

DOS: This Cork team needs an influx of new talent now. Since Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Shane Kingston and Luke Meade came in a few years ago, there’s been nothing really new of any significance brought through since then. Sean O’Donoghue has done reasonably okay and Tim O’Mahony did exceptionally well on Sunday when he came on, but neither of them have really added to the four I’ve mentioned above.

That’s why winning this year’s u20 competition must become a major priority for Cork, it just has to.

If they could get an All-Ireland under their belt, an influx of those u20 players would bring fierce value to a squad. You have the likes of James Keating, Sean O’Leary-Hayes, Craig Hanifin, Brian Turnbull, Shane O’Regan, Daire Connery and the Roches from Bride Rovers – they’re the guys who could take Cork in a new direction.

Cork need that change of direction, they need a freshness and a hunger that those lads would bring.

If that means some of Cork’s mainstays and top performers are going to come under pressure, then so be it because that’s the nature of intercounty hurling. No other county is afraid to embrace that change, so why are we?

PPN: Does Patrick Horgan have a legitimate claim to being Cork’s best ever player?

DOS: The man is phenomenal and I have to ask, does he get the credit he deserves? I still believe there are some people out there who don’t give him that credit. Why? I’ll never know.

Time has him under pressure now to win an All-Ireland in his career, unless he can stay going and wait for this new breed to come through. It’s going to be very hard for him, he’s 31 now and there no reason why he can’t keep going.

However, we know the lifespan of the intercounty hurler is shortening all the time.

It would be a travesty if it didn’t work out for that man to win an All-Ireland.

He could just be Cork’s best ever forward. People will challenge the talk of him being Cork’s best ever hurler though, which is their right. But, I believe he’s right up there.

PPN: What issues do Cork need to cure heading into next season?

DOS: The most glaring issue Cork need to tackle is the concession of scores by their defence, 9-134 is a huge tally to cough up. If you are to be successful in any Championship, you have to have the ability to shut it down in defence.

Cork have been at sixes and sevens back there at times this year.

Also, they need to fix the spread of scorers. You need all the forwards contributing and not just one guy. We just lucky that Patrick Horgan can keep giving Cork everything that he has.

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