All eyes on Croke Park as the Cork hurlers prepare for Leinster opposition

All eyes on Croke Park as the Cork hurlers prepare for Leinster opposition
Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

WHILE the eyes of the province will be on the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday for the Munster final, there will be considerable interest too in how things will pan out in Croke Park.

And there will be plenty of Cork attention in both games, the Joe McDonagh Cup final and the Leinster final.

In fact, what will transpire at headquarters will be far more important for John Meyler’s team at this point in time.

Firstly, Cork’s next outing will be against the losers of the Joe McDonagh Cup, Westmeath or Laois and if successful in that game, which should be the case, with respect to both Leinster teams, next up will be the losers of Kilkenny and Wexford.

You can take nothing for granted these days and nobody in the Cork camp would dismiss Laois or Westmeath but it would be a monumental shock if Cork failed to progress to that date with the Cats or Wexford.

So, it should be a case of killing two birds with the one stone tomorrow, having a good look at your next two opponents.

Laois will be favourites to win the McDonagh Cup and subsequent entry into the Leinster championship next season.

If they justify their favourites tag it will be Westmeath for Cork a week later, probably in Mullingar.

The Kilkenny, Wexford decider could well be the game of the season and if their encounter in Wexford Park is anything to go by, when they drew two weeks ago, then it will be another ferocious collision.

That game in the Round-Robin series was a cracker with some huge hits given and taken.

It was probably the most physical game of the season thus far.

For years upon years, when they ruled the hurling world, Kilkenny always beat the team from Slaneyside, they always had the Indian sign over them.

But that’s all changed now and the playing field between the two has been levelled considerably and they’ll start this Leinster final on an equal footing.

Both sides celebrated the draw two weeks ago because of what had transpired a few minutes earlier in Parnell Park but the bar has been raised again now for this latest instalment between the age old rivals Kilkenny will start as marginal favourites and that is based probably on them being perceived to have more firepower up front.

TJ Reid was well policed in the Round-Robin game by Matthew Hanlon but the Ballyhale man remains the key player for Brian Cody’s side and there’s no guarantee that he will be curtailed to the same extent again.

Adrian Mullen was outstanding in that game. He has been touted as a player with a huge future on Noreside and is now beginning to live up to that reputation.

Brian Cody will demand more from Colin Fennelly and Ger Aylward and if this Kilkenny attack clicks as a unit, there’s few better around.

Wexford had three draws in the Round-Robin series and the importance of this game cannot be emphasised enough.

Their want certainly has to be greater and winning a Leinster title is now almost a priority given the platform that has been built by Davy Fitzgerald in the past few years.

There’s a wealth of experience in the side with Lee Chin, Diarmuid O’Keeffe. Liam Ryan, Paul Morris and they don’t fear Kilkenny anymore.

Padraig Walsh has become a quality defender in the balck and amber while Paul Murphy is another defender of real substance.

Wexford fans now expect their team to beat Kilkenny and there is a confident air about the place going into Croke Park.

However, they’ll still have to go out and prove it in a major final and that’s going to be a big ask again.

They are quite capable of winning but the tendency is to favour Kilkenny on the basis that TJ Reid won’t be as quiet again and that when it all boils down to it, they will have the knack of getting over the line.

This should be a right, old-fashioned Leinster final with bodies being put on the line And Croke Park should house a huge attendance, exceeding the numbers present last Sunday for the football final.

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