Performance must be the starting point for Rebels but new format will benefit a young team next season

Performance must be the starting point for Rebels but new format will benefit a young team next season

Cork’s Michael Cahalane gets his shot away. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Éamonn Murphy

Hurling

THE summer will officially start this Sunday in Thurles.

But, it's hard not to wonder how much more enjoyable it would have been if the new hurling structures were ready to roll.

It would have been fascinating to see how this Cork crop would have fared across four round-robin games in the Munster series – especially as the new GAA proposals guarantee two at home for each county in groups of five. 

Instead though, it's Cork and Tipp this weekend, with a likely defeat on the cards and a trip into the qualifiers. That could work out for Kieran Kingston's side.

They had their moments in the spring and are capable of reaching the quarter-finals and even a semi in Croke Park if they can build a bit of momentum. 

The more championship games they get the better in the medium term.

We'll have to wait until 2018 for the revamped hurling format to kick in, by which time at least Páirc Uí Chaoimh will be fully functional again. 

And hopefully, these Rebels will be after a decent enough season to give them a launchpad towards being genuine contenders for silverware.

Cork and Tipp, even if it has lost a bit of its lustre due to the backdoor and the fact the Premier have been in the driving seat for the past decade, is still an always interesting rivalry. It's enriched, rather than burdened by history, and there are added subplots this weekend given the influx of new faces into the Rebel squad and Tipperary's wake-up call in the league final mauling at the hands of Galway.

Unfortunately, but realistically, Cork's performance rather than the result is the priority for Leesiders, and you'd suspect the management.

Kingston and his selectors may have copped a bit of flak after last year's disappointments, but they're a pragmatic bunch.

They further shook up the panel this season, with Luke Meade and Darragh Fitzgibbon ahead of schedule in their development as a consequence, and recruited Gary Keegan, who had previous success with Olympic boxers, to work behind the scenes as a high-performance expert.

From underage onwards, the spine of a team is vital, and Cork need Anthony Nash, Stephen McDonnell, Mark Ellis, Daniel Kearney, Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy, to find their best championship form and lead from the middle. 

Critical too will be how easily Shane Kingston and Mark Coleman adapt to the championship arena, if Damien Cahalane and Colm Spillane can offer a bit of cutting in the rearguard, and whether Alan Cadogan and Patrick Horgan consistently deliver the sublime scores they're capable of, but on a regular basis.

Colm Spillane and Tipperary forward Seamus Callanan race for the ball. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Colm Spillane and Tipperary forward Seamus Callanan race for the ball. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

'Consistency' has been a common theme in the post-match commentary in the Kingston era – the lack of it more often than not – and only against Waterford and then Tipp in the league have Cork managed back-to-back victories.

Losing to Limerick in the league quarter-final was a disappointment in that regard. 

While a likely loss to Galway awaited them in the semis, it was a little worrying Cork couldn't make home advantage count against a team they'd already beaten twice in the Munster Hurling League preseason competition.

Not that anyone will remember the result of a league quarter-final should the championship path lead us into August.

Cork go into the weekend as massive underdogs against their rivals. 

Tipp's no-show in the league final against Galway, as well as their loss on Leeside back in March, means complacency won't be an issue.

The only time Cork defeated Tipp in the past eight meetings and 10 seasons was 2010 when the Premier swaggered into the Páirc with a sense of entitlement having left the previous year's All-Ireland behind them and were shredded by the O'Connors across the half-forward line and Aisake Ó hAilpín and Horgan inside. 

Forewarned is forearmed, and they'll hardly be as vulnerable at Semple Stadium this time.

What was so frustrating in Cork's last two championship losses to the old foe, in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final and last year's Munster opener, was that they were brushed aside so easily in the second half. 

Anything along those lines this time would be considered a real setback.

It's defeatist talk, but at the very least Cork need to hurl to a standstill, like they did in the likes of 2009 and 2012, and make the favourites earn every point and catch. 

If they do that, then maybe they have a chance.

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