SUNDAY: NHL Division 1A: Cork v Tipperary, Páirc Uí Rinn, 3pm
TIPPERARY come to Cork in the knowledge that win, lose or draw they will be playing a week later in one of the four quarter-finals of the NHL.
Cork, whether they win or lose on Sunday, should be in the mix as well a week later in one of those last eight ties unless there is a series of unexpected results in the games involving Kilkenny and Dublin and Clare and Waterford.
In the event of a Cork loss they would not want a Dublin win over Kilkenny or a draw between Clare and Waterford.
So, while other than pride and bragging rights, Tipperary haven’t a whole pile to play for on Sunday but Cork must leave nothing to chance in their desire to extend their league season.
Going into the game they are certainly in a far better place than they were in 12 months ago, pointless and confidence fairly low.
Now from their four assignments thus far they have a 50% record, two wins and two losses.
And it’s their most recent victory that will have pleased the management the most, an away success on the sod of Walsh Park when they hurled with purpose and intensity for the best part of the 70 minutes against a near full strength Waterford unit.
Prior to that game the team’s inconsistency from game to game and within games had been a big worry, good one day in the win over Clare but coming up far too short in the loss to the Dubs.
Then you had one very good half against Kilkenny followed by a fadeout thereafter.
Therefore the work-rate and ongoing intensity against Waterford was a welcome change and the selectors will want more of the same on Sunday.
It will be a surprise if there is any major changes in the defence with the six who started in Walsh Park expected to be retained.
Damien Cahalane is bedding in well at full-back, Colm Spillane is doing the same in the corner while Mark Coleman outside them at wing-back has been a revelation.
Bill Cooper has put in an honest shift in all his outings and scored three fine points against Waterford.
Up front the big question ahead of tonight’s team announcement is whether Patrick Horgan starts or remains on the bench. Arriving from that bench in Walsh Park he fired over a fine point and a player of his vast experience must surely get the nod here.
Conor Lehane has been coming back to his best form in recent games and the importance of him to the team cannot be emphasised enough. A Conor Lehane playing at the top end of his game puts him right up there with the best.
Cork only conceded 1-5 from play against Waterford and containing the Tipperary forward sector to a similar extent is probably going to be a big ask.
The composition of the Tipp team will be interesting and whether or not Michael Ryan sends out all his big guns.
However, given the depth of the resources available to him any combination will be formidable.
There is also the fact that the same counties have a big championship showdown coming up in May and there could be another meeting in the league if both progress.
Tipperary brought in Seamus Kennedy, Jason Forde and Steven O’Brien during the course of their epic draw with Kilkenny.
Newcomers John O’Keeffe, Sean Curran and Tommy Hamill have fitted seamlessly into the team while Brendan Maher and Cathal Barrett are not in the current equation because of injury but are due back shortly.
Tipperary are on a very impressive, unbeaten run at the moment, nothing like the Dublin footballers but they will want to keep a good thing going.
If they field at their strongest and go all out for the win it’s difficult to envisage Cork stopping them.
But we thought the same thing going down to Walsh Park after the two previous losses to Kilkenny and Dublin.
Cork’s confidence, especially the younger brigade, will be strong going into this game and replicating the aforementioned intensity and performance over the 70 minutes is paramount.
If that happens and with an expected large home support a Cork win might well be on the cards.
We’ll go against conventional wisdom for a Cork win.
Verdict: Cork to win.