Cork hurling league openers not always an accurate barometer

Rebels haven't won their opening two games since the 2012 campaign, when they lost the final after to Kilkenny
Cork hurling league openers not always an accurate barometer

Cork's Rob O'Shea in action against Austin Gleeson and Kevin Moran of Waterford in the 2015 Allianz HL Division 1 final in Thurles. Cork reached the final despite losing their league opener to Kilkenny. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

IT'S strange that, while we have had no GAA action as yet in 2021, last year seems so far away.

While Covid-19 should mean that less is happening, there is an unusual dichotomy in the fact that time is almost moving faster but going nowhere. The 2020 inter-county championship began six months ago but already seems like a bit of a fever dream and the league is positively antiquated, beginning as it did at the end of January.

Then, as with this the coming campaign, Cork began with a clash against Waterford, with Walsh Park the venue. Despite the dream start of early goals from Conor Lehane and Shane Kingston, the Rebels lost by 1-24 to 3-17.

While manager Kieran Kingston, speaking after the game,0 was pleased that Cork showed a willingness to go for goal, ultimately the 17 wides his team shot was a huge impediment to victory.

“We targeted getting at them early, got two, got three overall and on another day we could have got five,” he said.

“That's something that this team has been criticised over the last number of years, not getting enough goals, so it's something we are working on. But today is only one day, we did create some chances, that was one of the most positive things from it.

“You’re not going to win with a conversion rate like that or conceding that amount of frees.

“Look, you can make excuses about time of year, etc, for the misses, but there were plenty of them we should have converted.

There is no easy game in this league and, on a given day, every team can beat the other.

“We have Tipperary now, next week, and that is another tough game, especially as we have fellas playing during the week.”

Cork would go on to beat Tipperary at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, but it proved to be an up-and-down league, winning away to Westmeath but losing against Limerick and Galway to finish fourth of the six teams in Group A of Division 1.

Given that, for the past decade or so, league programmes have comprised five regular games before the knockout stages, it stands to reason to a certain extent that the results in the opening round will prove to be a good indicator as to what lies ahead for the remainder. In 2019, Cork were beaten by Kilkenny first time out and went on to finish bottom of Division 1A – they lost the relegation play-off to the Cats but ultimately it mattered little due to the restructuring of the competition for 2020.

The previous year, 2018, the opening game was not a barometer of what lay ahead as Cork triumphed over Kilkenny in the county’s first senior match at the new Páirc but four defeats followed as they finished bottom of the table. However, relegation was avoided thanks to a play-off win over Waterford at Páirc Uí Rinn.

Three wins and two losses from their five games in 2017 left Cork in second place in Division 1A behind Tipp and they had got the ball rolling with a 0-21 to 1-11 win over Clare at Páirc Uí Rinn, though defeats followed at home to Dublin and away to Kilkenny before a strong finish.

The 2016 campaign – the first year of Kieran Kingston’s first spell as manager – was a disappointing one as Cork lost all five group games, the first of those away to Galway, though as would prove to be the case in 2018, they managed to pull out a win when needed in the relegation play-off, overcoming the Tribesmen.

BOUNCING BACK

An opening-round loss to Kilkenny wasn’t fatal in 2015 as Cork won three of their remaining four games to finish in second place – they would reach the final, losing to Waterford. The season prior to that, 2014, remains the last time Cork went undefeated – winning four games and drawing one, the opener against Limerick, but with the caveat that this was in Division 1B after the relegation of 2013.

Given the way that poor campaigns had been overcome before a play-off escape in 2016 and 2018, Cork were somewhat unfortunate to suffer the drop in 2013 as they didn’t lose a majority of their games.

Having had a 12-point win over Tipperary in their first match, Cork then drew with Waterford before losing to Clare. Another draw, against Galway, was followed by a two-point defeat to Kilkenny, leaving Cork on four points – just two behind table-toppers Tipperary and Kilkenny but level in last place with Clare, who overcame them after extra time in the relegation match. Of course, the counties would also meet in that year’s All-Ireland final, albeit with the Banner prevailing after a replay this time.

The last 10 campaigns are rounded off with 2012, which remains the last time Cork won their opening two games, at home to Waterford and away to Dublin, as Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s campaign began well. A home loss to Galway was the only reversal before a win against Kilkenny and a draw away to Tipperary secured second place. Cork ended up reaching the final, though again losing out to Kilkenny.

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