TWELVE months ago Cork won the last game of their league campaign, a relegation decider against Waterford at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and their performance on that occasion gave them a much-needed bit of momentum going into the Munster championship.
Last Saturday, at Nowlan Park, Cork found themselves involved in a similar situation without the threat of relegation hanging over them.
Being very honest it was a ‘nothing’ game, just 70 minutes to sort out what group themselves and Kilkenny would participate in next season in the restructured secondary competition..
The proof was in the pudding, just over 1,000 souls turned up in Nowlan Park. When was the last time that happened in a game other than a challenge involving the great rivals?
Cork won the game, their first victory at the venue in many a long day. But did it really tell us anything, did it mean anything.
From this perspective, I think it did. Only in the fullness of time and until the Munster championship begins with that crucial game against Tipperary in May will we know more.
Maybe it will give the team and the squad that same bit of momentum that they got out of the Waterford game last season in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Cork had a stronger starting 15 than Kilkenny, so that made it important that a positive outcome would be forthcoming.
It was important too that there was a reaction to the previous Sunday’s trouncing by Tipperary in Páirc Uí Rinn.
Ending any campaign, irrespective of the status of the game, with a win gives you something to build on before you embark on the next campaign.
Overall, it has not been a league to get too excited about from a Cork viewpoint, three wins out of six wasn’t great but it wasn’t too bad either.
The best day out was against Limerick, the worst by a country mile was against Tipperary.
But that was the nature of the entire campaign, teams putting in top-class displays one day and then coming up with the opposite the next day.
Given the new structure of the provincial championships, there is always the nagging belief that teams are holding something back and that when teams who are going to be facing each other again in less than two months time they are not showing their full hand and maybe how they might set up in those far more crucial games.
Back to Cork, John Meyler cannot be accused of not giving new players their opportunity.
Quite a number were called but how many will be chosen for the bigger assignments remains to be seen?
Some of the newcomers and those returning to the action after time out did better than others but it’s the job of management teams to see more than the ordinary fan might see.
At the time of writing, it appears that Seamus Harnedy is going to miss the championship opener against Tipperary. If he does he will be a considerable loss and difficult to replace.
To be honest, the manner of his suspension for one game is baffling in the extreme.
If the game featuring Cork and Kilkenny last Sunday was a quarter-final both Harnedy and Conor Delaney would have been ruled out.
That’s how it operates, sent off one day, miss the next day. Yet because the status of the game in Nowlan Park was different it was decreed by the CCC in Croke Park that both players could play last Sunday.
It seems to this observer anyway that these boys in Croke Park are making it up as they go along. A Cork appeal and a similar one from Kilkenny would seem in order.
Back to the Cork squad again. The likelihood is that it won’t change to any great degree since last year although the news that Colm Spillane is battling to be fit for the Tipperary game is a considerable concern.
Arguably, Spillane was Cork’s best defender last season and his loss would be considerable. And if he is going to be okay he will be coming into a major game without having any meaningful match practice behind him.
Mark Ellis is in the same boat, no meaningful action behind him either.
So that coupled with Harnedy’s loss sends out signals of concern.
The current injury to Alan Cadogan is another worry because this game with Tipperary in May will creep up very fast and it’s imperative that Meyler and his men have a full hand to choose from.
Basically, the main requirements for the championship battles are going to be more consistency in the play over the 70 minutes, something that has not been the case in quite a few Cork games in recent seasons.
There is still an over dependency on Patrick Horgan to secure scores and a greater spread of scorers will be needed.
Jack O’Connor took his goal last Saturday very well and the return of Darragh Fitzgibbon was another big plus.
Aidan Walsh has had a good league, nothing out of this world but enough to suggest that he has put himself into the frame, whether as a starter or as an important impact sub.
Conor Lehane’s form has been steadily returning too and he’s the one player that Cork really need to be on top of his game.
Because when he is there are very few forwards around who are better than him.
If Harnedy misses out, Bill Cooper will captain the team against Tipperary and he will never give less than 100%.
Only time will really tell how relevant last Saturday’s game in Nowlan Park was.
You certainly would not be getting carried away with it but maybe, similar to the relegation win over Waterford last season, it was a starting off point where the championship is concerned.