DENIS Ring has had plenty of good days patrolling the sideline at college, club, and inter-county levels. He is a hurling man to the core.
Good days can be accompanied by not-so-good ones, and his Cork U21 team’s loss to Tipperary in last season’s All-Ireland final was as bad as it gets.
The outcome was all the more galling because when the same two teams had clashed in the Munster final, Cork had run them out the gate. This weekend offers redemption with the U20 group.
“We are going in to play a Tipperary team that beat us in the Munster final, and, let’s face it, they were awesome against Wexford in the semi-final. They hit eight goals against a top-ranked team. That is not something that you see very often now.
“They got eight goals against a team that lost out to Kilkenny by just two points, so that, in its own way, indicates that there’s a massive challenge ahead of us. They are very well-organised; they have very good rotation in their forward line.
“They have moved Jerome Cahill to centre-forward. He’s very elusive, he comes very deep, and he makes a lot of space in their forward line.
“This year, you look at Cahill, Jake Morris and Paddy Caddell, three guys with a lot of senior experience. It’s the total reverse of last year and they appear to have all the stars on paper. They have the Munster cup, they annihilated Wexford; so, from that perspective, a lot of things are with them.”
But Ring says his own team have a lot going for them, too, despite that last-gasp Munster final loss, when Jake Morris nailed a goal. “Quietly, we did refocus after the Munster final. We complimented the lads on an awful lot of what had happened in that game and we took it on the chin; things that we didn’t do so well and you try to correct that in a calm, rational way.
“You don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater when you lose a game. I am a great believer that when you lose a game, you are not as bad as people say you are, and when you win a game, you are probably not as good as people say you are.
“The truth always lies somewhere in between. We went in very focused against Kilkenny: different opposition, possibly easier to defend against, because you are talking about a flat-six, three-on-three, and now we are facing a totally different challenge now.
“It’s an All-Ireland final, where you get nothing easy, but, from our perspective, it’s a challenge that we are really, really embracing.”
Accusations had been made, especially after the loss to Kilkenny in the senior game, that Cork hurling had gone too soft.
“People can use those terms loosely, but you have to look at the stats from games, as well, the number of challenges, the number of hits, turnovers, tackles that go in, the raw data that you look at. If those figures are completely down, then fair enough, you can argue that a team is soft, and so on.
“They are our performance indicators, as a team, in terms of hunger, in terms of winning the breaking ball, how good we are at hooking and blocking. If they are low, we’ll take the hit and accept that we are not performing and that we are soft.
“If they are high, we will say, ‘hang on a minute, we are in with a shout here and could win the match.’ And in the Munster final, we were not that far off it. We were at pains to stress that to the lads, that there were an awful lot of positives from the game. We targeted three or four things going into the Kilkenny game and, to be fair to the lads, they rose to the challenge.
“They are a mature bunch now. They have got to the last day in their championships, at minor and U20 level, and that has involved a lot of hurling and there’s a lot of maturing in that and they grow up fairly fast.’’
The Cork boss has been delighted with how they have responded to setbacks. “In terms of being hard or tough or whatever it is, I guarantee you that they will be aggressive in their play, I guarantee they will be committed in their play, and they will be honest.”
Tipp, on the basis of being Munster champions and the hammering that they dished out to Wexford, are now fancied. “When you lose, your pride is hurt; everybody’s pride is hurt. You would like to think that, because of that, you are a dangerous animal going in the next day.
“I would expect that aspects of our performance that will be better going into this game. We are looking at percentage improvements in certain areas.
“We know that Tipp have improved, as well, and will also be extremely confident, as well. That’s good from one perspective: we are underdogs.”