Cork sit at the top of the Group 1 table on twelve points, Kilkenny second on nine.
Even if Cork drop the three points, it is hard to see them losing by 14 points and that is the scoring difference between the two sides as it stands.
Kilkenny, to be certain of a second placed spot will be eager to take the points on offer, but again, even if third-placed Wexford beat Dublin they would need to do so by 33 points to pip the Cats.
While Dublin have yet to register points in the league their losing margins weren’t embarrassing (except maybe to Kilkenny where they lost 2-14 to 0-4), therefore one would expect them to be somewhat competitive again. The semi-finals are down for April 9 and Cork will face either Galway or Limerick, after this weekend’s fixtures.
While it would be nice to win the league, of course, Cork would look on that as a bonus. They are again using the league to blend in newcomers and with Niamh McCarthy, Linda Collins, Jennifer Barry, and Chloe Sigerson getting consistent game-time they are most definitely getting up to speed and hopefully can make a difference at senior level come championship time.
Kilkenny likewise have utilised a significant number of typical division two players throughout the campaign. Yet Kilkenny and Cork still top group 1 which shows the gap between the top teams and the others.
Kilkenny dropped two points in their second-round tie to Wexford but if you’re going to catch the All-Ireland champions, just back after their spring break is the time to do it.
Cork’s league preparations were slow to get underway in 2016 and they paid the price, losing twice to Limerick, the last outing a playoff, as they failed to advance to the semi-finals. While much notice wasn’t taken of it at the time, maybe the signs were there that the year wasn’t going to play out as Cork would have hoped.
This year, training resumed a lot earlier and there is a spring in the step of the players at present. I think a factor in that is that the players are playing with more freedom and initiative, while still keeping somewhat to a game plan. Sometimes the best approach to a game is to just let the players at it. While losing the league didn’t upset Cork in the slightest in 2016, I think looking back they would have appreciated a couple more competitive games, and more importantly against stronger opposition.
Kilkenny of course are the National league and All-Ireland champions.
Cork’s lineout will more than likely be the same as that which lined out against Wexford two weeks ago.
The familiar posture of Aoife Murray will stand between the post. Glen Rovers’ Leanne O’Sullivan, Captain Rena Buckley and Laura Treacy will line out in front of her with Pam Mackey, Ashling Thompson and Chloe Sigerson holding down the half back line positions. Gemma O’Connor and Jennifer Barry line out at 8 and 9 while Cork have two fast wings forwards in Amy O’Connor and Julia White flanking Orla Cronin at centre.
Katrina Mackey, Niamh McCarthy, Linda Collins will complete Cork’s starting fifteen. Orla Cotter continues to give her leg time to heal. Cork are in no rush to bring her back to the playing field.
They’re quite content to give their new breed of players time on the pitch. The return of Emer O’Sullivan to the panel is a welcome sight, even if she is unavailable for tomorrow.
Cork are doing well to-date in both the Division one and two leagues, unbeaten in both. There is nothing like an All-Ireland defeat to put the bite back into your game.
Tomorrow’s battle will hold a lot of it.