Cork have certainly come a long way in a few short months but defeat tomorrow in Thurles against Clare will take some of the shine off this progress and send them hurtling in the direction of the likes of the aforementioned Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford in the All-Ireland quarter-final. On the other hand victory would open up a whole range of possibilities for Cork, as victors on Sunday will rock up to Croke Park on August 13 for the All-Ireland semi-final in rude health in what looks the most open All-Ireland hurling championship in years.
It is four years now since Cork were cruelly denied All-Ireland victory with that last-gasp Hail Mary of a point from Clare corner-back Domhnall O’Donovan in the drawn 2013 final, in what was his only ever score in championship hurling. The pain lingers, and Cork hurling folk will not be taking the Banner men lightly.
Seven of that Cork side are still involved, while nine of the Clare side that triumphed in 2013 were in action in the 3-17 to 2-16 win over Limerick in their semi-final, so there will plenty reminders of those two Croke Park clashes of four years ago this Sunday. Of course, the two sides have met in the championship twice since then, with Cork emerging as victors on both occasions.
Only nine months after losing that All-Ireland final replay, Cork exacted some degree of revenge by disposing of Clare by 2-23 to 2-18 at Semple Stadium in the Munster semi, while in the 2015 qualifiers the two sides met in Thurles with a late flurry of points from Cork ensuring they won out that evening on a scoreline of 0-20 to 0-17.
Still, those games are already long forgotten about whereas the 2013 encounters will never be. Perhaps victory in a Munster final in front of a packed Semple Stadium this weekend can help alleviate some of those unwanted memories.
Combine the two Munster championship victories over Tipperary and Waterford with the two thrillers that the Cork minors have had with Tipp in the past week, as well as the Munster title secured by the county’s U17 panel, and Cork hurling is in a good place right now.
To be looking forward to senior and minor Munster finals this weekend is a sign of fantastic progression from a Cork perspective. It is wonderful to think that 20 of Cork’s finest minors enjoyed two marvellous nights in the past week and that they are still yet to experience Munster hurling final day as well as an outing in Croke Park later in the summer.
Seven of the U17 squad featured in those minor semi-finals against Tipp, and they too will get to play in the All-Ireland semi-final in their own age grade later this month. It is a busy, and exciting, time for the likes of Daire Connery, Conor O’Callaghan and the Roche twins from Bride Rovers, who are involved with both sides.
And while it is superb to see these young talents coming through the ranks the senior side also has a fresh, youthful look about it, and four of the senior side will be back-boning the U21 side next week against Waterford, with many more members of the senior panel getting an opportunity that night to show their wares, while hopefully continuing what has been a wonderful summer of hurling so far for Cork.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the U21s can go into next week’s game in Walsh Park with minor and senior honours already having been secured?
No doubt long-suffering Cork fans will feel that such days are deserved and long overdue.