Westmeath’s Cusack Park should be more

Westmeath’s Cusack Park should be more
Eoin Price of Westmeath in action against John Lennon of Laois. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

THIS weekend will provide a couple of Cork hurling firsts.

Never before have the Rebels played Westmeath in a senior hurling championship tie and because the Lake County will be at home, Cork will be playing at another Cusack Park.

Having already played Clare in Cusack Park in Ennis, now they will travel to the stadium of the same name in Mullingar, which carries the TEG naming rights. Hopefully, nobody ends up back in Ennis due to a faulty sat-nav.

The away trip is due to the structure of the championship draw, which gives home ties to the Joe McDonagh Cup finalists in what are known as the preliminary All-Ireland quarter-finals, with the winners advancing to meet the two provincial final losers. Laois, who beat Westmeath in Sunday’s decider, will host Dublin.

In a sense, you can understand why such a carrot is given to the teams in the McDonagh Cup, but, at the same time, it’s not an idea brimming with logic.

By winning the competition, Laois already have the prize of a place in next year’s Leinster SHC, so there isn’t a huge need to parachute them in this year. It would be like the Europa League finishing in March and the winners going into the Champions League quarter-finals.

With Westmeath beaten in the Croke Park final, they will have to battle in the McDonagh again next year, rather than compete in Leinster and the MacCarthy Cup. The possibility, however remote, exists that they could win this year’s MacCarthy Cup — what would happen then? Presumably, they would take Laois’s place in Leinster for 2020, but there is no indication on the GAA site that that is, indeed, the case.

It’s not something we will have to worry about — we certainly hope not, from Cork’s point of view — but it does underline another anomaly. It’s reminiscent of how, under the league system that pertained until this year, the first, second, third, fourth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth teams went into the quarter-finals, while the fifth and sixth had to meet in a relegation play-off.

With apologies to any readers in Moate or Tyrrellspass, we don’t expect that difficult a game on Saturday. To paraphrase an old quote from a player, if Cork can’t beat Westmeath, then they needn’t bother showing up to face Kilkenny.

Westmeath will obviously see it as a chance to gain a scalp, so it should be a valuable workout; maybe competition for three-quarters of the game.

Having won Munster for the last two years, only to lose to a Munster side in the All-Ireland semi-final on each occasion, Cork are now trying to scale the mountain from the other side, with consolation to be taken from the fact that Limerick went all the way last year, after finishing third in Munster.

If, and when, Cork do beat Westmeath, it’s Kilkenny next, but the Cats will be coming off the Leinster final defeat; their first defeat to Wexford in the provincial decider since 1997.

There isn’t the same fear factor about Kilkenny anymore, but it should still be a stiff challenge. Get over that and it’s newly crowned Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final.

The Shannonsiders’ win over Tipp on Sunday means they hold the league, Munster, and All-Ireland titles, with all the talk of them having lost twice in four round-robin games now not so much of a factor.

At the same time, Cork have played them four times since the start of 2018, three times in the championship and once in the league, and not lost to them over 70 minutes. Obviously, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but the route to the All-Ireland isn’t an impossible one. For Tipperary, heavily beaten after four wins in the group stage, Dublin (assuming they beat Laois) and Wexford would have to be seen off in order to make the final.

Incidentally, the last time that Limerick held all three hurling titles at the same time was 1936. That same year, the county that won the football league also won the All-Ireland. Who was it? Mayo. You just never know what might happen.

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