Survival in the hurling league is not as important as it was but Cork could do with a lift

Survival in the hurling league is not as important as it was but Cork could do with a lift
Christopher Joyce tackles Billy McCarthy. Picture: INPHO/Conor Wyse

GIVEN the new provincial championship structure, the tendency over the early Spring months has been to take the national hurling league with a grain of salt.

In a lot of cases, the emphasis has been on using it as an audition for newcomers wanting to put themselves on the stage for what lies ahead in the hectic summer schedule, four provincial games in five weeks.

The message from the various county team managers will always be, we want to progress as far as we can in the league, win every game that we play in.

No team certainly goes out to lose a game but in a lot of cases in this league it’s maybe preserving your top-flight status and securing a quarter-final place to provide at least one more competitive game before the championship preparation begins in earnest has been the main priority.

Cork have found themselves that extra competitive game but it’s a relegation issue rather than a last-eight place.

Quite a few of this squad will be familiar with this relegation showdown with Waterford, having been in a similar situation in 2016 when they had to travel to Salthill to get the better of Galway.

Galway went down to IB as a result but 12 months later they were league and Leinster champions before taking the McCarthy Cup back to the West in September.

So being relegated is not the end of the world but at the same time, it has to be a bit disconcerting for this Cork squad that they have lost four of their five group games.

Contrast that to last season when they won three out of the five.

However, there have been mitigating circumstances, three of the games were away, three of them were at home last season and in the five games over the past few months, key players have been marked absent for various reasons.

Last Sunday in Thurles, Seamus Harnedy, Eoin Cadogan, Mark Ellis and Damien Cahalane were ruled out and you have four big players there, four almost certain championship players.

Tipp were better last Sunday and should have won by more than just three points.

Their wides tally of 20 was ridiculous but to Cork’s credit, they were still in the game right up to the last action in the 73rd minute.

Overall, you would have to say that the secondary competition has been too much up and down for Cork, in a lot of cases not enough consistency over the course of the game.

That was particularly evident in the games against Wexford and Clare, going too long in both games without registering any type of a score.

In both instances, they ended up losing although their second-half display against Clare was in stark contrast to the first.

Team boss John Meyler’s primary need in the league was to strengthen his hand with the panel, something that he was keen to stress because of the fast and furious Munster championship that is coming over the horizon.

Four major championship games in five weeks is going to test the resources of every county panel and it’s highly unlikely that you will see the same 15 going out every week.

Inevitably, there will be injuries, maybe a red card or two and plan B will have to be as good as plan A.

The margin for error will be minimal in every game and take Cork’s first game at home to Clare, that is a must-win encounter as is the second home game against Limerick.

Every county manager will have taken positives from the last couple of weeks but looked at the negatives as well.

In Meyler’s case, the form of young centre-back Tim O’Mahony has been very encouraging and last Sunday he was very good again in Thurles.

That’s not saying that he will be a championship starter but he has certainly thrown himself into the mix.

That’s encouraging for a player more recognised as a forward prior to this campaign.

Eoin Cadogan’s return has worked out too and he was a big loss against Tipp.

His drive and assertiveness has been missing in recent years.

Sean O’Donoghue has done well too in defence since being given his chance and you would have to believe that defensively, there are stronger options right now than there are offensively.

Luke Meade did make a difference when he was brought in last Sunday and should start against Waterford.

Alan Cadogan’s exhibited a fine cutting edge against Tipp and looked very dangerous on the ball but both wing-forwards, Shane Kingston and Robbie O’Flynn were replaced.

Harnedy’s return will boost the attack that is still too dependent on Patrick Horgan to post scores and young Jack O’Connor is a prospect.

The league as such is over now for Cork as it is for Waterford but Waterford go into next Sunday’s relegation match with two wins under their belt as against two losses for Cork.

A US, North Korean war won’t break out if Cork lose next Sunday’s relegation match but it would be much better going into the championship with a win under your belt rather than another loss.

Maybe we’ll get a repeat of two seasons ago when Cork went to Pearse Stadium as massive underdogs against Galway after losing all five group games and came away with the win after giving the best performance up to that time.

Winning is always far better than losing and ending a losing sequence stretching now over four games would be timely for this Cork squad.

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