It’s the morning after the day before and, after our latest flirtation with disaster, we’re still standing in this this year’s championship. We’re one of the final eight, still in the race as the real action is about to begin.
Cocooned away from much – though not all – of the chat as I am, it’s hard to think about where we’re at after yesterday. My problems in this respect aren’t confined to geography either – as I mentioned yesterday I found it very hard to follow who was doing what in the game yesterday due to my colour-blindness.
I think I’m due another moan on this point. I know the jerseys aren’t the same but they look the same from distance and watching on the laptop they were all but identical to my poor benighted eyes. Could one team not have worn different shorts or something? We always have a change of jerseys when we play Kerry – despite a far lesser colour clash – but never do when up against Cork. I find that baffling. And bloody confusing.
But back to the game itself. I didn’t do it last night but I really want to salute the players who stood up for us yesterday evening and who were instrumental in dragging us over the line. Cillian was superb, Aidan only marginally less so, Andy too. Jason Doherty rarely gets the plaudits he so often deserves – and, man, does he have to work hard to earn a free, taking enormous punishment before doing so – so I’m delighted to see him getting recognition too.
As others have noted, it’s ironic that it was our much-maligned forward unit who saved our bacon in Limerick yesterday evening. Our post-2011 standing in the game has always been based on our strengths further back the field, especially in the half-back line, but yesterday we suffered the greatest collapse in our backline that we’ve done for many a year.
I’d agree to a large extent with the assessment that this meltdown was largely self-manufactured, though, of course, it’s always easy to be wise after the event. Oftentimes it feels as if we don’t run our bench quickly enough and we had serious strength amidst our replacements yesterday but our changes definitely knocked us out of kilter.
Cork, meanwhile, were forced to make three changes before they could do any tactical ones but their subs strengthened them significantly. I really can’t come up with any sound reasoning as to why the changes the two sides made had the contrasting effect on their respective performances that it did.
I do, though, believe that Lee’s black card was a very major turning point. Of course he was being pulled and held and pushed and belted with impunity all day long but if you’re the current Footballer of the Year it kinda goes with the territory. His trip was rash and idiotic and damn near cost us the game. He’ll know that better than any of us will.
One other point on the changes, one that concerns me, is the late ones. I think it’s fair to say that neither Evan Regan – two more wild shots that produced nothing – nor Alan Dillon, who kicked a free direct to a Cork player just after coming on, made a positive contribution to the win.
Would the likes of Shane Nally or Danny Kirby have been better options, not least in terms of point-scoring ability? To my untrained eye, I think they might have been. And was it right to demote Fergal Boland, virtually ever-present this year, from the match-day 26? I struggle to see how it was.
But, lookit, when switches work the manager is a genius, when they don’t he’s a clown (or worse). The bottom line is that we won and so we’re still in the race for Sam this year.
Our championship journey now takes us back to Croke Park next weekend for a novel All-Ireland quarter-final tie against Roscommon. As Connacht champions, they deserve our utmost respect but no more than that. We’re not in Connacht now, Toto – this is real championship and Croke Park has, since 2011, become a home from home for us.
In the past, teams from the county seemed to shrink into themselves when they reached Croke Park. Not these lads. We’ve had so many great days at HQ since 2011 – a fact that so many forget, blinded by all those final letdowns – and it’s a venue where we win far more often than we lose.
That places us at a major advantage against the neighbours before a ball is kicked this day week. It’s an advantage we have to maximise to the full if we’re to continue this increasingly compelling championship adventure into August and, potentially, beyond.