Cork hurlers have huge ground to make up to challenge in Munster again

Kieran Kingston's side won't be considering contenders for silverware in 2021 but that could change quickly if they regain their confidence
Cork hurlers have huge ground to make up to challenge in Munster again

Cork manager Kieran Kingston has a job on his hands to improve the hurlers' fortunes in 2021. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

IT’S, as they say, all quiet on the western front as far as GAA matters on the field of play are concerned.

We'll remain in a time of uncertainty for a while yet.

There was some good news last week when it was revealed that the provincial draws will take place next month. That, at least, should merit plenty of debate.

The main focus of attention across the province will be the draw for the Munster SHC, now surely the fiercest fought across both codes throughout the country.

It wasn’t today or yesterday that the Munster hurling championship became ultra-competitive but surely in the season that lies ahead, it will be even more so. Where this competition is concerned, you can rule nothing in or rule nothing out.

Last season Waterford and Cork had only one game to play to reach the final, having been paired together in the semi-final.

Waterford, as we all know, took full advantage of that situation and found themselves in the final after their first championship victory in a couple of years.

Tipperary had only one game to play too to get into a final whereas Limerick and Clare pulled the short straw by having to play a quarter-final tie.

It’s well documented now that Limerick swept to the title, defeating Clare, Tipperary — and Waterford in the final — amassing a total of 3-84 in doing so.

The manner with which the Shannonside team subsequently went on to regain the McCarthy Cup will have sent shivers down the spine of the rest of the chasing pack and they are certainly the team to try and avoid if you are to reach the final.

Limerick are, justifiably, the favourites to retain the Munster trophy but you would still be making a case for the other four competing counties.

John Kiely and selector Paul Kinnerk celebrate winning the All-Ireland final. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
John Kiely and selector Paul Kinnerk celebrate winning the All-Ireland final. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Apart from John Kiely’s team, Waterford were the team of the year in the 2020 championship, and if that foundation is built on they are going to be a side worth watching again.

However, coping with the absence of goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe and centre-back Tadgh de Búrca is going to provide a challenge of its own and players of that stature are very difficult to replace.

On the plus side, the return of Pauric Mahony and Shane Bennett to the attack gives team boss Liam Cahill greater options in that area.

For any team to be successful now it’s all about having players who can fill in adequately in every position on the field.

One thing is for sure, if Cork and Waterford collide again in the championship you will have different number ones at opposite ends of the field, in all probability Billy Nolan for Waterford and Patrick Collins for Cork.

So, before the draw is made for the championship how would you rate the title contenders from one to five in Munster? Going on the past year it’s an easy enough task with Limerick clear of the rest.

Séamus Callanan of Tipperary in action against William O'Donoghue of Limerick. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Séamus Callanan of Tipperary in action against William O'Donoghue of Limerick. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Waterford would have come in second on the list of title contenders but without O’Keeffe and de Búrca you would have to place an asterisk in front of them.

Tipperary got a trouncing from Limerick in last season’s Munster semi-final and came up well short in their bid to retain the McCarthy Cup.

But there’s a lot of experience on the side even if quite a few of them are moving towards the exit gate.

The expectation is that this will be a final fling for three or four of them and the fact that they have two successes under their belt at U21 and U20 level in recent times you would expect a strong challenge from them again.

Right now you would have to suggest that Cork and Clare occupy fourth and fifth places on the pecking order in Munster but that’s not saying they cannot be successful.

Séadna Morey has opted out of the Clare plans for this season and he will be missed but that should be offset by the return of John Conlon and Colm Galvin.

Where Clare are concerned, there cannot be the same reliance again on Tony Kelly this time because at times last season it looked like he was doing it all on his own.

Kelly is simply an awesome hurler, a joy to watch in action but the support strategy has to be a lot better going forward.

Cork had just one good day at the office last season in the defeat of Dublin but overall it was a hugely disappointing campaign.

Things will have to be a whole lot better this time and getting the spine of the team right down the middle will be a priority.

All the counties will know what lies ahead when the draw is made next month. The path will be clearer.

One thing is for sure, it’s going to be one hell of a Munster championship.

More in this section

Sponsored Content