Cork hurlers can't afford to be complacent against Westmeath

Rebels looking to go three unbeaten for first time since 2018
Cork hurlers can't afford to be complacent against Westmeath

Cork's Patrick Horgan and Luke Meade in action against Joey Boyle of Westmeath during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 game at TEG Cusack Park last year. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SUNDAY: Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A: Cork v Westmeath, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 3pm

It has been an encouraging start to the year for Cork and another victory on Sunday would make it three games unbeaten in league and/or championship for the first time since 2018.

Back then, John Meyler’s side actually went six without defeat – beating Waterford in the league relegation play-off before picking up two wins and two draws in the Munster SHC round-robin and then retaining the provincial title with a win against Clare.

In that regard – or when compared against the 14-game sequence Limerick held before last week’s loss to Galway – managing three on the trot in the league seems fairly inconsequential but consistency is achieved on a step-by-step basis.

Cork should win, with the bookmakers having them as 1/100 to do so, but it’s worth bearing in mind that last year’s clash between the counties at TEG Cusack Park in Mullingar was quite close, with the Rebels triumphing by 3-12 to 1-14 in tough conditions.

GRIND

It proved to be one of only two victories for Cork in the five-game league programme and manager Kieran Kingston felt it was one that the team had had to grind out.

“We’re trying to get consistency from game to game,” he said, “that’s dictated by the results you get, but within each game too you want a consistent performance.

“Today, over 70 minutes we went six points ahead twice and let them back into it, there were silly mistakes, we contributed to letting them in and we have to get that out of our game.

“I don’t underestimate the battle that was there today, there was a ruck-ball every minute.

“Our fellas had to stand up in the second half, the changes we made worked well and they stood up to it.

“It was a battle and normal hurling stuff goes out the window.”

Seven months previously, an All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final, also in Mullingar, had been more of a stroll, with Cork scoring 1-40 to their hosts’ 0-20, but the Rebels’ championship campaign ended in their next outing, against Kilkenny.

So far, Cork have done a lot right in beating Waterford and drawing with Tipperary but they are still quite a way from being the finished article. 

As impressive as the five-goal haul was against the Déise, Cork did allow the visitors to score an unanswered 1-3 in the game’s closing stages while an unbalanced free count against Tipp could have been more costly.

Naturally, there is attention from all angles on the standard of hurling refereeing at the moment – there always is, to some extent – but that shouldn’t give teams a free pass in terms of what they concede. Cork’s strength in the tackle has improved but it can improve further; similarly, the short passing game being employed presents for potential for running into trouble and over-carrying – work is needed to refine it as any free from the opposition’s 65 or closer is a scoring opportunity.

And, despite the disparity of the odds, Westmeath should not be written off. While they shipped 5-34 against Galway int their opener a fortnight ago, last week they went down by just three points away to Waterford, who scored five points fewer than they did against Cork.

It was an experimental Déise side in Walsh Park and they did finish with 13 men – Westmeath had one sent off – but it shows that nothing can be taken for granted.

Killian Doyle and Niall O’Brien are the main score-getters for Westmeath, who are managed by Shane O’Brien. Former Galway dual star Alan Kerins is part of the backroom team while another former Tribesman, Davy Glennon, recently transferred and made his debut against his native county.

Cork are likely to be without Shane Kingston, Séamus Harnedy and Robbie O’Flynn, all victims of hamstring injuries, but such a situation gives opportunities in attack and the management will be pleased to have seen Alan Connolly, Daire Connery and Conor Cahalane get on the scoresheet after being introduced as substitutes last week.

It’s likely that there will be some rotation, but championship is fast approaching and Cork’s next game after this one is a Munster semi-final dress rehearsal against Limerick. As a result, Kingston and his selectors will also be cognisant of the need to be approaching higher intensity, with the core of the championship team intact.

The signs have been encouraging so far and this will be a test of a different kind, with no room for any complacency.

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