Despite qualification, Tipperary will be a real test for Cork hurlers

Despite qualification, Tipperary will be a real test for Cork hurlers
The Cork team huddle before the game against Waterford.  Who will get the nod on Sunday to face Tipperary?

FOR some strange reason, there seems to be a viewpoint that, having already qualified for the knockout stages of the NHL, Tipperary won’t working overtime to secure two more points against Cork next Sunday.

Tipperary’s unbeaten run does not stretch anywhere as near to what the Dublin footballers are on at the moment but it is very impressive nonetheless.

They took the direct route to All-Ireland glory last season, unbeaten throughout the the championship season and in the current national league they have stretched the unbeaten run to nine games.

In constructing that run, team boss Michael Ryan has put together the most formidable squad in the country, similar to what Kilkenny once had.

In the four league games that they have played to date Ryan has been able to leave out three of the country’s best forwards, Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath and Bubbles Dwyer at certain times and introduce them off the bench if necessary without it making the slightest impact on their unbeaten run.

The team for the four league games against, Dublin, Clare, Waterford and Kilkenny hasn’t had last season’s captain Brendan Maher and star defender Cathal Barrett featuring at all because of injury.

Against Kilkenny in Thurles just look at the subs that were introduced during the course of that absorbing encounter, Jason Forde, Seamus Kennedy, Kieran Bergin and Steven O’Brien who rifled over the equalising point.

Last season’s All-Ireland winning goalkeeper Darren Gleeson has yet to feature this season with Darragh Mooney fitting in seamlessly between the sticks.

Those are just a few illustrations of the depth in resources that Tipperary have at the moment and, irrespective of what 15 starts in Pairc Ui Rinn next Sunday, they won’t want to give Cork an inch and all the more so because of the fact that the teams could meet again in the semi-final or final of the competition, although that is highly unlikely.

The teams are penciled in for a May 20th championship meeting in Thurles and it would not be ideal for both to be meeting again a short few weeks before that showdown.

So, anyone expecting Tipp to be shadow boxing next Sunday is in for a rude awakening, Tipp will come down with all guns blazing no matter what 15 starts.

Right now any Tipp formation will be a strong one with every player wanting and believing that they can make the championship team.

It is going to be a severe test of Cork’s credentials but it has the potential to be another game of great importance in this developing process by the management.

The team is certainly in a far better place that it was going into the final group game 12 months ago when they were pointless.

Now they stand a fighting chance of reaching the quarter-finals and, irrespective of next Sunday’s outcome, that will happen provided Kilkenny defeat Dublin and Clare or Waterford don’t draw.

It has certainly been a much better campaign for Kieran Kingston but we are still waiting for two strong back to back performances over the 70 minutes to be put together.

The consistency that he and his management team crave is still not what they want it to be.

Cork started very brightly with a win over Clare and then flopped against Dublin which was followed by another defeat to Kilkenny, a game that featured a second-half fade-out.

Then came the trip to Walsh Park and probably the best 70 minute display of the season when the team as a unit hurled very well and posed a lot of questions for Derek McGrath which he will want answers to against Clare in Cusack Park.

Now, it goes without saying that it is imperative that another strong performance by Cork is delivered next Sunday when the team hurls again for the full 70 minutes.

Whether it’s a win or a loss after that is not of paramount importance, the strength of the performance is what will take you into the championship in a more positive frame of mind.

Outside of Tipperary, the rest of the six Division 1A participants have something to play for next Sunday, be it qualifying for the knockout stages or avoiding the dreaded relegation showdown.

Of course the relegated team might well be in for a reprieve as there are strong vibes that next season’s league is going to re-structured with eight teams making up the top division.

That begs the question, has the current format failed?

The answer where this season is concerned anyway is no because you are going into the final Sunday of the group games with five of the six teams having it all to play for and there is not going to be any meaningless match next Sunday.

Come next September, when the question is posed, what was the best hurling game of the year ?, the answer may well be the Tipp, Kilkenny clash last Saturday week in Thurles.

So, from that perspective, the current format has been good.

There may be some complaint that team managers cannot experiment enough given how tight the margin for error is.

Well, that has not been a problem in Tipperary.

One change that might and probably should be made is to get rid of the quarter-finals and replace them with top three teams in Division 1A being joined by the number one team in Division 1B to make up the four semi-finalists.

The minus of the current system is that you are going to get the fourth placed team in IB playing Tipperary in one of the quarter-finals and that could be very embarrassing.

Wexford displays in 1B thus far has been the most illuminating of the campaign and rendered next Sunday’s showdown between Galway and Limerick , the game pencilled in by the authorities as the deciding game to determine who gets promoted, as rather meaningless.

Overall, though it has been a good league to date and there’s a lot to play for yet.

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