CONSISTENCY of performance is the objective of Cork hurling manager, Kieran Kingston, ahead of the upcoming Allianz HL Division 1 campaign.
The Rebels begin their Group A games with a trip to Walsh Park, to play Waterford on Sunday (2pm), and, while Kingston accepts that there can be an over-reaction to league results, he is targeting quality from his team in every game, not up-and-down performances.
“The Munster league was the be-all and the end-all a couple of weeks ago,” he said, “because there was nothing else on and people were reacting to it straightaway.
“I suppose, that’s understandable, because Cork people are crying out for success at some level.
“Every time a Cork senior hurling team takes to the field now, it’s, ‘Have we something to follow now or are we under pressure again?’ and you can understand that, when you haven’t had a national league title in 22 years and an All-Ireland in 15. People are starved of success.
“While the league might be perceived as the secondary competition, it’s important for us. The way I’d be looking at it is that we will utilise it as best we can to give as many players on our panel as much game-time as we can, to prepare us as a group for the challenges lying ahead in a few months’ time, in terms of our squad,” Kingston said.
“Also, we want to make sure that we are consistent in our performances throughout the national league and that’s something that I would be looking for from us, as a group.
“Irrespective of what the result is, that will take care of itself. I think it’s important that we start building consistency, in terms of our performances. That’s something this team has been criticised for over the last while and that’s the number-one objective with the league.”
Kingston will integrate players from the Cork sides that reached the All-Ireland U21 final in 2018 and the U20 final last year, but the change in age-grade makes the leap to senior that bit harder.
“That’s a challenge, obviously,” he says, “because, with the grade having gone from 21 to 20, your guys are coming out of that age group obviously a year younger, some ready, and some maybe not ready, to step up to senior.
“There’s an integration process, in that it’s kind of like the kind of a mini-development squad in between your U20 grade and your senior. We have a good few of last year’s U20 team and the year before’s U21 team that are on our panel, and we’re just building them up and working with them to give them best opportunity to compete at senior level, because there is quite a gap. Some of them come through quicker than others,” Kingston said.
“Tipperary, last year, didn’t have to use any of the guys who won the U21 in 2018 or the U20 in 2019 and that’s the ideal scenario to have. A few years previously, we threw in a few lads who were obviously a bit younger and maybe that created an expectation and that’s great, when they’re mentally and physically ready for it.
“If they’re not, then it’s how you develop that capacity to make sure that, when you put them in, they’re in the best position to express themselves.”
In that regard, the Co-Op Superstores Munster HL was a good exercise for Cork, in that they reached the final with a number of younger players, but the 15-point loss to Limerick ensured that nobody got carried away.
“The Munster league served us well, up until half-time in the Limerick game!” Kingston said.
“It gave us good games and a chance to get game-time into senior players who hadn’t played championship since July or August, and also give game-time to the U20s and give them experience of senior level and that worked fairly well.
“At half-time against Limerick, I felt we were competitive. Certainly, irrespective of what personnel were on the pitch in the second-half that night, you couldn’t stand here and say that you were anything other than disappointed with the second-half performance.
“At the end of the day, we still had 15 Cork hurlers on the pitch and we would have expected a better reaction that we got,” Kingston said.