THE Cork hurlers kick-off their National Hurling League campaign this Sunday against Waterford knowing that they must get rid of the Indian sign that Liam Cahill has over them at present if they are to get their year off to a winning start.
Cahill was the manager of the Tipperary U21 and U20 sides that beat Cork in the All-Ireland Finals of 2018 and 2019, with the 2018 defeat, in particular, arguably pulling the handbrake on any Cork revival in the past couple years at senior level.
Then last year he took over a desperately underperforming Waterford side, and in his very first competitive game in charge, in that year’s league opener at Walsh Park in January, he prowled the sideline as Waterford won a shootout by 1-24 to 3-17.
Come the Championship the two sides met again in the Munster Championship Semi-Final in Thurles, with there being a similar result, as Waterford won by 1-28 to 1-24, meaning that right now it would appear that Cahill has the exact formula for disposing of the Rebels.
The secret of these successes is not exactly rocket science, however, as it is clear to the naked eye that Cahill’s teams have outworked Cork in all of these victories.
His Tipp and Waterford teams have just been hungrier, bringing an insatiable desire and relentless work-rate to proceedings, and that is a common theme whether the games were league encounters in the dregs of winter or in All-Ireland Finals, with everything on the line.
With Cahill teams the energy levels are constant.
There is no turning them on or off like a switch, as would seem to be the case with many Cork teams in recent years, and there is a salient lesson there for any side harbouring ambitions of All-Ireland glory.
It will be very interesting to see what side Kieran Kingston sends out against the Déise.
There was a significant turnover of the squad late last year, so in effect, there are multiple positions within the team up for grabs right now.
With only five league games before the Championship opener against All-Ireland Champions Limerick, and with a new looking squad to pick from, Cork simply must use every available minute to strengthen their squad for the summer campaign ahead.
That is not necessarily saying that it is vitally important that Cork win all their games.
The league is of little importance, in reality. The point here is that Cork need to maximise the game time of the newer players who are likely to be called upon come the championship, as Kieran Kingston needs them to be up to speed for that Limerick game.
With so many players culled after last year’s championship exit to Tipperary there is little option but to trust in the newer contingent within the squad from the get-go, and this encounter against Waterford will be the first time we get an idea of which of these fresh faces are likely to feature in the year ahead.
There is actually no need for Kingston to go for a full-on youth approach, as a good few of the new brigade played their last underage game years ago, meaning they should, in theory at least, be ready to go at senior level in the physicality stakes.
Erins Own’s James O’Flynn is eight years out of minor at this stage. Blackrock pair Niall Cashman and Daniel Meaney are 25-years-old.
The Barrs Billy Hennessy is 23, as is Rockies attacker Tadhg Deasy, while Sean O’Leary-Hayes and Ger Millerick are both well past their 21st birthdays.
So, while the cream of the Cork U20 side that won the Munster championship last December against Tipperary are also in the squad, we can expect Cork to be leaning more heavily on the older ‘new boys’ for the foreseeable future.
Some of these players may have thought that they had missed the boat in terms of becoming inter-county players, so you would be hopeful that they would be looking to grab this opportunity with both hands, while also bringing levels of hunger and intensity to the table that this side so patently needs.
It actually might well be the case that some of these ‘newcomers’ end up occupying key positions down the spine of the Cork team.