The weather behaved itself. Apart from that, not a lot can be said for Sunday last. A League Final of presumed potential fell flat from the outset. Cork’s apparent improvement was not carried onto the Stadium pitch. Jimmy Barry Murphy was left looking as unhappy as say, Kerry Dalglish has been in recent times - favourite sons in charge of their own and not fated to live up to promising starts in their new capacities. Brian Cody was a contented onlooker as any fear of either threat or problem vanished in short order. The battle of the last two runners up never became even a mild contest - all too simple at Semple as the Cats swamped Cork early and had only to hold steady through a superfluous second half that maintained their fourteen points interim margin.
Optimism as regards seeing a genuine and prolonged tussle was fairly strong in preview analysis. Kilkenny might not be as dedicated in League as in championship, last year’s loss to Dublin suggested as much. Then, too, there were their noted retired and their injured players, maybe leaving their attack weakened in particular against a Cork defence that had appeared reasonably settled in most departments, the placing of Gardiner at midfield seemed a sign of confidence in the set up behind.
What happened - and in a hurry - debunked such notions in devastating fashion. Cork seemed to “freeze” at once, with hesitant defenders left stranded by the slick Cats movements. Not a heartening tackle or defiant clearance was to be observed while breaches were made readily and exploited to crashing effect. One early goal may be an omen. Two are serious. Three are terminal. In five minutes ball winner and elusive mover Larkin hit one across and beyond Coleman. The full forward soon laid on to Colin Fennelly for a straight forward lodgment to the net. Matt Ruth, who said they are “ruthless”? - was a leading light in their pointing quota against struggling defenders before goal number three arrived to emphasise the gulf. A couple of escapes in the build up in front of goal were negatived by Coleman’s weak flick away to the waiting T.J. Reid, who drove through despairing defenders to endorse Cork’s nightmare first half. A tally of 3-11 would be creditable after a completed game but here we were with all competitive element evaporated and a severe let-down assured for all bar the purring Cats - even they might have preferred a touch of tension. What a difference between this and the group match at Pairc Ui Chaoimh - Cork’s narrow win there had only been a spur to the losers. Just as well that Kilkenny did not go on to take the margin on Sunday to more devastating size. The trophy was in the bag and they did not seek further goals with any great fervour, though a few nearly came - a second half of a “clean sheet” was a relief to Cork’s defenders, while Herity’s net stayed intact through the ‘keeper’s fine work and a Paul Murphy rescue from O’Farrell. Cork’s dribble of points didn’t bother them in the least and the affair petered out on a day when seventy minutes felt very long indeed.
Plainly, Cork fell below the needs of the occasion while Kilkenny were more than up for it. It was as if a final had higher demands than a regular round of the competition. Cork’s repute as Stadium lovers brought no dividends at all and their ardent following was soon disillusioned. Seldom has a defence been so stretched - Kilkenny’s shooting was unhindered and could even afford a high number of wides. McDonnell at full back was switched with Murphy after the early disasters. Only O’Neill seemed capable of taking a ball clear. Their half backs were also in trouble. Cadogan was a trier at centre but seems far short of the closeness of the retired Ronan Curran at his best. The Cats’ attacking suffered little from the absence of Richie Power as Reid did well and newcomers Buckley and Ruth fitted in neatly into the scheme of things, while Richie Hogan’s recovery from injury was swift and positive. The midfield of Fennelly and Paddy Hogan easily shaded Gardiner and McLoughlin, and the defence as a unit was tight and alert in front of the capable Herity. Cork got a little late aid from the arrivals of Coughlan and Sweetman but by then all had been settled.
A sharp check, certainly, to the progress seen before Sunday’s crash but Munster will be a Cat-free constituency. If Cork gained nothing as regards profile and will be more realistic than their rising optimism had suggested, they now have something to rebound from. The example of Tipp. in 2010 may console them by showing that a heavy - even an embarrassing - defeat can lead on to far better days. We wouldn’t want to presume that the Rebels have been exposed as without merit by their suffering at the hands of the rampant felines, who dealt almost as sharply with us in the first round of the League. And now have collected thirteen of twenty one titles, League and Championship, in the last ten seasons.
The Divisions avail of the coming weekend to advance their group programmes towards final shape. In Mid we have Drom-Inch and Upperchurch-Drombane heading the respective sections with two played, two won.
At the other end it’s two lost for Moycarkey-Borris and Boherlahan-Dualla. The other four clubs stand on a win and a defeat. Without doubt the classiest clash will be Drom-Inch v Loughmore-Castleiney on Saturday evening in Templetuohy, where they contested the last Mid final. The repeat finds one as County champions, the other as Mid’s, what better could be asked than this return.
Drom-Inch seemed entitled to be regarded as the more even and compact side, while their opponents went under to Sarsfields in the opening round. Top personalities Seamus Callanan and Noel McGrath will be closely watched, on field and by the onlookers. Callanan is surely on the verge of a Tipp. return. The rivalry is sharp between the respective title holders.
Sunday will be a busy day for anyone eager to see the three games billed, two at the Ragg in the afternoon, the third at Holycross in the evening. The ‘Church having beaten Boherlahan and Holycross bid to take maximum points by defeating the Brackens at the Ragg in the opening game. Holycross and Boherlahan is a rivalry going back to better days in those parishes. The odds appear to favour the “Abbeysiders” at the moment but Boherlahan were unlucky not to carry their pursuit of the Brackens to success, so you never know. The fourth match is in Holycross at 7 p.m. and the Blues have to be obvious favourites despite their slack showing in the defeat by Drom-Inch, while Moycarkey have gone under twice. Again here lies ancient history of meetings since the start of organised hurling. The Blues had a bad year in 2011 and will bid for better this time. The first name to mind in Sars context is still Lar Corbett, but by now it’s being taken as definite that he won’t be available to either club or county. One wouldn’t have expected some months ago that this would be the case but there’s no sign to the contrary right now.