AFTER all the big crowds at last Sunday’s hurling matches — there were over 45,000 in Limerick and 50,000 in Croke Park — this weekend it’s likely to be back to small numbers.
Even participating counties won’t be bringing supporters to these matches.
The roads to Mullingar won’t be too busy, not from Cork, anyway. Most of the Cork supporters will be sparing themselves for the trip to Croke Park, the following Sunday.
I cannot ever recall Cork and Westmeath playing in a hurling match, and if they did, I definitely was not at it. I know Westmeath were a Division 1 county in the late 1980s and had the Kilcoyne brothers, their most famous players, playing for them at that time.
Anyway, I am making the trip to Mullingar. The last time I was there, it definitely wasn’t at a hurling match, but a Joe Dolan concert. The singer put Mullingar on the map, and there is a fantastic statue of him there.
This is a long journey for the Cork team, but an important one. Preparing for the challenge beyond it, the following Sunday, against the Cats, is key.
I presume Cork have been working very hard since their last game, in Ennis. The break was an advantage. While they were sizing up the opposition, they could work away quietly, not a word about them, out of sight, and make the necessary improvements.
Now, they are at the business end of the championship.
They have added Tom Kenny to their management and this is a great idea. Tom was a brilliant player and a very solid performer.
He was an athletic midfielder, covering ground from 21 to 21, and also well able to score. His work-rate was outstanding and he was a brilliant team player.
He was never selected as an All-Star but should have been a shoo-in.
While he has no coaching experience at inter-county level, he has been involved with colleges in Cork. Why was this appointment not made at the start of the year?
Does it seem a bit of a panic now? Maybe, but he will be very good for the set-up if he passes on half of the things he was good at himself as a player.
I’m sure a lot of these players would look up to Tom.
Anyway, his first test is in Mullingar, on Sunday, and with all due respects to Westmeath, I don’t think this will be too difficult for Cork.
Still, Cork have to go there and be professional, and I would say to the players, ‘go out and kill this game early’. They should be well-able.
It will be interesting to see which Cork team will start. Will Eoin Cadogan or Damien Cahalane be full-back? Will Christopher Joyce or Robert Downey be wing-back?
And will Conor Lehane start in the forwards? I believe he must start. It would be a nice game to get him back into the swing of things.
It was a mistake not to start him against Clare, because he is better starting than as an impact sub. He is a confidence player and can be a match-winner; he has the class.
To Westmeath. They have achieved a good bit this year in Division 2, and they are playing Division 1 hurling next year, for the first time in a long time.
They have some very good players: Tommy Doyle, at full-back, a no-nonsense defender; centre-back Aonghus Clarke; John Gilligan and Shane Clavin, at midfield, plus some good forwards in Darragh Clinton and Robbie Greville. Their outstanding player over the last number of years has been Killian Doyle. He would get on a lot of county teams at the highest level.
He’s a great leader of their attack, well-able to take his scores, and will always need to be watched.
Another player, a veteran, Derek McNicholas, is very solid.
Of course, they have Joe Quaid as manager, a former All-Star goalkeeper for Limerick. Joe would know a lot about Cork hurling, as he came up against them often enough in his Limerick days.
No matter what knowledge he has, it won’t make any difference in this game, because I expect Cork to win by as much as they want to.
The other qualifier, between Laois and Dublin, should be closer, but I expect Dublin will win and set themselves up for a battle against Tipperary.
I have my Sat Nav ready for Mullingar!