IT'S hard to imagine there are counties already battling it out for quarter-final spots in their groups and Cork have yet to strike a ball in this year’s Liberty Insurance All-Ireland senior championship.
They have three points on the board from the walkover they received from Offaly which leaves them with just two games left. That’s why tomorrow’s second-round tie with Wexford is so important.
If Cork dropped points tomorrow they would be under immense pressure to get a result in Galway next weekend. Cork are in group 1. With three groups the structure will see the winners of group 1 and 2 proceed directly to the semi-finals.
A further draw will take place where the winner of group 3 and the runners-up of group 1, 2 and 3 will play each other in the quarter-finals.
So, Cork need six points at least and maybe a higher scoring difference if points finish level in order to advance to a quarter-final. That’s where the issue of the walkover could come into play. Cork have no scoring average due to that walkover and surely that wouldn’t be right.
Looking ahead and if Wexford did beat Cork and Offaly and Cork defeated Galway, scoring average could be the deciding factor. That seems as if we’re looking too far ahead but in reality with just four teams in groups 1 and 2 and three in group 3 the outcomes will be decided next weekend.
It’s a must-win for Wexford tomorrow having lost out to Galway. Wexford provided indications that they have put their poor form of the past few seasons somewhat behind them as they asked some questions of Galway before the All-Ireland champions got their campaign underway with a 5-17 to 3-9 win.
While Galway looked on their way by a fourth-minute goal from Catherine Finnerty, Wexford hit back quickly with a smart finish to the net by Mag Byrne.
Wexford displayed impressive spirit and work rate throughout and had the margin down to four with just a minute of normal time remaining in the first half but a point by Galway’s Caitriona Cormican and a second goal for Ailish O’Reilly left them trailing by 3-9 to 1-7 at the interval.
A great team effort saw Wexford strike the net early in the second half to reduce the gap to four points. Centre-back Sarah O’Connor gathered Sarah Healy’s lengthy drive and bursting through a plethora of bodies offloaded to the supporting Linda Bolger.
The midfielder accelerated forward before hand-passing to Shelly Kehoe, who transferred quickly to Joanne Dillon and she made no mistake from 13 metres.
Galway responded quickly and started to pull away but Wexford continued to battle, O’Connor grabbing another goal following another run down the centre of the Galway defence. It wasn’t enough for the Slaneysiders’ but getting three goals past Galway is a very good return.
Conceding five at the other end isn’t however and you would expect a pacey Cork to have the upper hand in Páirc Uí Rinn tomorrow. Late Autumn and Winter hurling is different though and Wexford traditionally have had the physicality over Cork.
It hasn’t been all plain sailing for Cork since they returned to action. A number of injuries has hit them in recent weeks. Thankfully Laura Treacy, who was nursing a broken hand from a first-round club championship game, seems ready for action again after coming through a challenge game last week.
Katrina Mackey is having difficulty with a tendinitis problem in her ankle while Julia White is more than likely out for the remainder of the year. She’s been plagued with injuries these past few seasons and it’s extremely disappointing for her personally and for the team.
There have been other niggles that have affected the squad but they seem to have come through them in time.
We can expect a couple of new names making their championship debut alongside regulars Ashling Thompson, Hannah Looney, Chloe Sigerson and Gemma O’Connor, who looks likely to take on a new attacking role.
Cork manager Paudie Murray knows the task ahead.
"This is a final. As we said to the girls this is our All Ireland final and we have to approach it that way. To go to Galway and turn over the champions when the pressure is on you won’t be easy."