Kingston: New faces have given us a lift

Kingston: New faces have given us a lift

Cork manager Kieran Kingston at the Allianz NHL Division 1A game against Tipperary at Páirc Uí Rinn. Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

John Horgan

Hurling

THE form of the Cork players in recent club games has been a source of great encouragement to team boss Kieran Kingston ahead of Sunday’s Munster SHC showdown with Tipp in Thurles.

Cork’s elimination at the quarter-final stage of the NHL meant club games involving his players took on greater significance because, other than that, the management had no chance to assess them in a competitive environment.

There were a few challenge encounters with Limerick and Clare but club duties decreed experimental teams were fielded for those games.

“We emphasised to the players we wanted to see them at their best for their clubs and in the main that was the case. That was encouraging from our viewpoint.’’

Cork’s preparations have gone well for this latest assignment between the great Munster rivals but what awaits them is still an enormous task, according to the Cork boss.

While Cork were well-beaten in their opening assignment at the same venue last year, Kingston believes the challenge is even greater now in view of what Tipp have accomplished in the meantime.

"In winning the All-Ireland last year, Tipp got a monkey off their back, because people were saying they should have been winning it for the past few seasons.

‘Now that they have done that and are the Munster and All-Ireland champions, it means they are more solid, more experienced and more confident, and obviously it’s going to be a huge test for us next Sunday.

“It doesn’t get any tougher than this, competing against the best team in the country on their own ground where they train and, after losing the NHL final against Galway, any sense of complacency they might have had going into the game certainly won’t be there now.’’

However, he believes Cork are in a far better place this time going in against them than they were 12 months ago.

"We were very much a team in transition in 2016 and, judging from our performances so far this year, you’d like to think we have made good progress.

"While the Munster League wouldn’t be regarded as a meaningful competition by most people, it gave us a bit of a boost to win it, and we came second in Division 1A of the National League.

“We certainly would have taken that setting out last January after nearly being relegated last season’’

Bringing in and introducing so many young newcomers to senior competitive fare was something, he believes, was a big positive too.

"We blooded a lot of them over the course of the national league campaign, nine to the best of my knowledge. It was a risk but it had to be taken and if we’d been told we’d win three out of five games in the group when we started out, beating the likes of Clare, Waterford and Tipperary, we’d gladly have taken it.

“Last season we had one U21 player in the squad, Patrick Collins, this season we have 12 and that is the direction that we are going in.

“You have up to six players in contention for starting places on Sunday that were not even on the panel last year, players like Colm Spillane, Mark Coleman, Mikey Cahalane, Shane Kingston and Luke Meade

“That has to be regarded as progress."

Kingston accepts the championship is a big step-up, particularly for the newcomers, but he stressed they aren’t going to be judged on just one game.

“They have to start somewhere, I mean how else are they going to learn, and it was encouraging the way most of them performed in the league.

“The championship is a different story I know, but all we’re asking from the players is to give it their all for the full 70 minutes in every game and see where it takes us. Our policy from the start has always been to try and deliver an individual and collective performance to the best of our ability, and that’s what we are hoping for against Tipp,” he said.

With an extended panel now of 36 players, selecting the first 15 and the match day 26 creates a headache that they are quite happy to have.

“Firstly, I want to say that the effort all the players have put in has been immense. They have created great competition for places, pushed each other all the way, but you can start only 15 and name a 26 man match panel.’’

Cork’s recent record in Thurles has not been good, some bad defeats on a ground that brought so much success in the past but Kingston is hoping that might change on Sunday.

“You can’t change what has gone on before but we’ll try to change it here. We are going up to Thurles as well prepared as we can be.

“Hopefully and I believe we’ll have big support and we will go out to give it everything."

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