Cork hurlers must get down and dirty to shake off accusations of being too soft

Cork hurlers must get down and dirty to shake off accusations of being too soft

Mark Coleman of Cork in action against Jamie Barron and Austin Gleeson of Waterford. Cork need more dogs of war to put alongside a stylist like Coleman. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

WHEN the draw was made for the championship, Cork hurling fans were relieved.

Munster champions Limerick and holders of Liam McCarthy Tipperary were deposited on the opposite side; Cork just had to beat Waterford, without a championship win in their last eight games, to reach the provincial decider.

It wasn’t that we expected the Rebels to cruise past the Déise. Cork were hugely disappointing last year and the early 2020 league displays hadn’t been particularly impressive. Waterford have Liam Cahill, the architect of numerous defeats of Cork underage teams during his time in Tipp, in his first season at the helm and a clutch of serious hurlers.

Still, the vibe on Leeside was ‘sure if we can’t beat Waterford, we can forget about it...’

Well, Cork not only failed to get the job done in Thurles, they completely underperformed. It was a four-point hammering.

The game-plan Kieran Kingston and his selectors put in place short-wired after the first quarter and instead Cork made a hero of Waterford centre-back Tadhg de Búrca by lamping ball after ball down on top of him. The likes of Jamie Barron and Austin Gleeson were men on a mission, Cork’s veterans didn’t have that bite at all.

Now they have a shot at redemption. Like the Waterford game, Cork have enough talent at their disposal to beat Dublin. Like the Waterford game, their opponents will fancy their chances if their work-rate is high enough.

Seán O'Donoghue and Damien Cahalane in action against Dessie Hutchinson. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Seán O'Donoghue and Damien Cahalane in action against Dessie Hutchinson. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The Cork players and management are sick of accusations they’re soft. In sporting terms, it’s as gross an insult as they come. Yet how often have they got down and dirty in recent championship games? Beating Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds last summer stands out as an exception to prove the rule.

Dublin, for their part, have struggled when there’s any weight of expectation on their shoulders. On a high after knocking Galway out of last year’s Leinster championship they walked into a low blow from Laois.

They looked impressive when they gained a modicum of revenge on Laois at Croke Park the weekend before last Saturday’s games of two halves against Kilkenny. They reeled in a 15-point deficit and were only caught in injury time.

Mark Schutte battles Padraig Walsh of Kilkenny. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Mark Schutte battles Padraig Walsh of Kilkenny. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Cork need to treat Dublin with the same respect they’d give the Cats. Former Cuala All-Ireland winning coach Mattie Kenny is over the Dubs and will have learned quite a bit from the Leinster semi-final loss.

Liam Rushe was brought back into the side as a target-man and struggled. Subs Eamonn Dillon and Ronan Hayes added heft and style off the bench. Expect a rejigged line-up in Thurles this Saturday.

In Eoin O’Donnell, Danny Sutcliffe, Cian Boland, Daire Gray, Chris Crummy and Donal Burke, Dublin have a clutch of hurlers with the ability and self-belief to cap off a miserable campaign for Cork. The Dubs should have beaten Cork in the qualifiers at Páirc Uí Rinn in 2016, a red card for Crummy and the excellence of Patrick Horgan and Alan Cadogan, saved Kingston and co from defeat on that occasion.

As it turned out, Cork were subsequently defeated by Wexford in the next round of the qualifiers. That facilitated a Rebel reboot, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman, Shane Kingston, Colm Spillane and Luke Meade coming into the start 15 in 2017.

Young Cork forward Jack O'Connor. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Young Cork forward Jack O'Connor. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Kingston will certainly have to rebuild again in 2021 but there are major calls to be made this week before taking on Dublin. Seán O’Leary Hayes and Daire Connery made their debuts against Waterford and it would send out a signal of intent if they’re trusted again.

By the same token, Cork could do with the cutting Spillane and Eoin Cadogan, 34 but the type of ruthless competitor needed around the full-back line, offer. Injuries are likely to rule them out again, along with Fitzgibbon.

His pace and scoring threat was missed against the Déise and there’s an argument that Aidan Walsh would offer 45 minutes of hard work and physicality if he’s fit. Now 30, Walsh isn’t a young gun either, but the Cork management’s priority will be keeping this season alive, whatever it takes.

Eoghan O’Donnell of Dublin in action against TJ Reid of Kilkenny at Croke Park last Saturday.
Eoghan O’Donnell of Dublin in action against TJ Reid of Kilkenny at Croke Park last Saturday.

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