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Patrick Horgan scores a goal. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Patrick Horgan scores a goal. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
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Cork are in a relegation battle but we haven't seen their best 15 together yet

WHATEVER your perception of the NHL is, there can be no issue concerning the last day drama that the group stages usually bring.

A number of things are definitely sorted going into next Sunday’s final list of fixtures in Division 1A and IB but, at the same time, there’s much still to be finalised.

For obvious reasons, we’ll start with Cork’s situation and after their third loss on the trot to Waterford last Sunday they now find themselves in a very precarious position.

In fact, they are much closer to being involved in a relegation play-off than they are of being involved in the knockout stages, i.e a place in the quarter-finals.

One thing is very clear, however, they must get the maximum return from next Sunday’s trip to Thurles, anything else and they are in that relegation play-off.

Even a draw would not suffice now against Tipperary and, amazingly, in the 20 games played in Division 1A so far, there hasn’t been one draw.

In fact, a similar situation applies in 1B, no draw either from the same amount of games played, that’s 40 games and no draw.

Cork’s points difference is inferior to four of the teams above them in the group and only Waterford are worse off than them in that situation.

There is still an opportunity for John Meyler’s team to reach the last eight but a lot of things have to go right for them next Sunday.

The permutations are numerous and there are a lot of ifs in the equation but the bottom line is simple, Tipp must be overcome in Thurles.

It has certainly been a disappointing campaign for Cork so far, just one win as against three losses.

There have been mitigating circumstances on a few occasions, most notably last Sunday when Seamus Harnedy was dismissed and Conor Lehane was subsequently replaced because of injury.

A week earlier it was Lehane and Alan Cadogan marked absent.

Cork don’t have the depth of resources in their attacking alternatives to replace those players although one of the subs that was introduced last Sunday, Shane Kingston forced Stephen O’Keeffe into a very fine save.

And the subs did make a difference where Waterford were concerned with two of them, Stephen Bennett and Stephen Roche posting three points between them.

It would be fair to state that the Cork attack as a unit didn’t function against Waterford and by the full-time whistle only Horgan and Alan Cadogan remained of the starting six.

Horgan contributed 1-10 of Cork’s tally of 1-15 and three more of those points came from two defenders, Colm Spillane and Tim O’Mahony and a named midfielder, Mark Ellis.

 Mark Ellis getting away from Colin Dunford, of Waterford, at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.  Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Mark Ellis getting away from Colin Dunford, of Waterford, at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.  Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

That meant the only other contributing Cork forward was Lehane with two points before his departure through injury.

Of course, come the Munster championship in its new format the National League will become a footnote.

But, at the same time, going into the championship under a cloud of a losing sequence would not be what you’d want either.

Arresting that slide of losing next Sunday in Thurles would be important and it would provide a bit of an impetus too for whatever might lie ahead, a place in the league quarters or a relegation showdown.

In the 2016 campaign, Cork lost all five group games before they saved themselves from being relegated by defeating Galway in a playoff in Salthill.

But what followed was a very disappointing championship campaign, just one win in the All-Ireland qualifiers before being dumped out by Wexford.

Last season it was the opposite, three fine group wins against Clare, Waterford and Tipp was followed by a Munster title a few months later.

Apart from the opening night this season against Kilkenny, Cork have lacked consistency too often, particularly against Wexford and Clare.

They had been going well enough last Sunday before Harnedy’s sending off and Lehane’s injury but there could be no doubting Waterford’s superiority in the end.

Darragh Fitzgibbon’s absence is a factor and last Sunday was Mark Coleman’s first game of the season.

Those things have to be taken into account too.

We haven’t got to see Cork’s best 15 in action in any game thus far and until we do we have to be cautious in our judgement.

However, given what is coming down the tracks in the new format of the Munster championship, four games in five weeks, will Cork be able to cope with losses such as Alan Cadogan and Lehane against Clare and Harnedy and Lehane last Sunday.

Inevitably, there will be injuries and other matters and strength in depth will be crucial.

Will Cork have that depth in their panel when the time comes and when the margin for error will be minimal?

At the end of the day, Patrick’s Bridge won’t fall into the river if Cork lose their 1A status.

It would be a financial hit alright with games to come next season against Offaly, Laois and Antrim but this is a championship county and, ultimately, everything is judged on that.

John Meyler does not want to be relegated in his first season at the helm and his priority probably from the outset was retaining the 1A status and getting another game at least in the knockout stages.

There will be another game if they don’t beat Tipp next Sunday but it will be a relegation showdown rather than a quarter-final With Tipp losing to Kilkenny last Sunday, they are not home and dry either as far as reaching the knockout stages are concerned so Tom Semple’s field next Sunday should be very interesting.

One thing is a definite, the state of the playing surface up there will be far superior to what it was in Pairc Ui Chaoimh last Sunday.

Another matter to be rectified.