If Limerick had been tuned in against Tipp then Cork would be out

If Limerick had been tuned in against Tipp then Cork would be out
Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

MAYBE the final, next Sunday week, in the Gaelic Grounds, will provide the fireworks that the round-robin series of the Munster SHC didn’t.

Just one glance at the final table will tell you that the fierceness of the competition of last season, when the new format was introduced, was missing this time and that it was a case of one team, Tipperary, being well ahead of the chasing pack.

The Premier county won their four games, Waterford lost their four, and, between them, Limerick, Cork, and Clare lost six games, two apiece.

The fare on offer didn’t reach any great heights in any of the games, although the splendour of Tipperary must be documented.

Being honest, at the outset of the round-robin section, very few would have envisaged how the final table would look, Tipperary cantering home, without any great deal of bother, in first place.

However, no silverware has been handed out for that feat and, come the end of the championship, in Croke Park, in the latter half of August, being first in the table of the round-robin won’t stand for a whole pile, if the Liam McCarthy Cup does not become a resident of the county for the following 12 months.

For the top counties now, it’s the big autumn prize or nothing; provincial success does not rank as highly anymore as maybe it once did.

Winning Munster this time was never going to be an over-riding priority for Cork. They have bagged the last two titles without even reaching an All-Ireland final.

So, while there will be some disquiet at losing twice, there will be satisfaction: given the perceived pre-season belief that the province was going to be even more of a minefield this time than it was 12 months ago, the primary objective of being one of the three teams to emerge from it was achieved.

Judgement will be reserved on everybody until the summer starts in earnest and that’s when the All-Ireland championship gets underway.

Cork must now negotiate the route that Limerick embarked on last season, starting with a preliminary quarter-final encounter with the losers of the Joe McDonagh Cup, Laois or Westmeath.

Those two sides drew at the weekend, in the final of that competition’s round-robin section, which suggests that there isn’t a great deal between them, but when the bigger question is posed, in the final, the expectation is that Eddie Brennan’s Laois might prevail.

One way or the other, and with the utmost respect to both counties, one would expect Cork to be too strong for either.

Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

That would give you an All-Ireland quarter-final against Kilkenny or Wexford and that, of course, would be an entirely different story.

That would not be an insurmountable task, but the margin for error against either team would be greatly minimised.

So, thus far, what would be the viewpoint on Cork’s season?

On a scale of one to 10, it would be around six to seven. After all, they were well-beaten by Tipperary, were outstanding against Limerick, defeated a Waterford team that had only their pride to play for, and, finally, lost to a Clare side that had already been near-humiliated by Tipperary and Limerick. All that would suggest that there will be quite a bit of soul-searching in the Cork camp over the next couple of weeks.

There is still a lack of consistency, from one game to the next, and that has to change.

There is still an over-dependence on Patrick Horgan to secure the bulk of the scores and, outside of Alan Cadogan, there was just a two-point return from the starting six forwards in Ennis last Sunday, a point apiece from Danny Kearney and Seamie Harnedy.

But Cork are where they set out to be, one of the three Munster teams that will challenge for the ultimate prize.

The starting 15 the next day, even if it’s not a game against one of the other leading counties, may take some more time to put down on paper and it won’t be as straightforward as it might have been.

On the plus side, the options coming off the bench are greater than they were and, both defensively and offensively, there is more depth.

From what we saw over the weekend, both in Munster and Leinster, Tipperary are justifiably favourites for the All-Ireland.

They have done everything right up to now but, at the same time, they haven’t really been tested, either.

They haven’t been asked how they’d respond if they were forced into having to chase a game, but that’s not their fault.

Now, they find themselves just 70 minutes away from an All-Ireland final. Of course, Limerick are now in the same boat and both of them will want to avoid a potentially very tricky quarter-final.

Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Limerick have the home advantage in the final and, if they prevail, they will have the Munster title, national league, and All-Ireland in their possession.

That might not be for long, of course, but it must be remembered that they left Gearoid Hegarty, Cian Lynch, Declan Hannon, and Graeme Mulcahy on the bench at the start in Thurles, last Sunday. They still have probably the best squad in the championship and might not even have been on full throttle last Sunday.

Maybe for Cork it’s fortunate that they weren’t, because, otherwise, Cork might be goners now in the battle to reach the big house in August.

But everything remains on the line and the Munster final will tell us a lot more.

You can be certain sure there will be no holding back that day.

The best route to any destination is the direct one and Limerick and Tipp will want to take it on the road to Croke Park.

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