John Horgan: Cork hurlers can gain an early edge on Limerick

League victory would lay down a marker for the Rebels ahead of championship rematch in July
John Horgan: Cork hurlers can gain an early edge on Limerick

Jack O'Connor hammers home his goal against Waterford. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

THE primary objective of any league campaign should be bolstering your squad which should ensure greater competition for places on the championship starting fifteen.

Choosing the 15 for the championship encounters should be a difficult task for the management and should not be the case where the team all but selects itself.

No matter what is achieved in one year, it should not be taken for granted that things will be similar subsequently Some games in the league might well be sort of shadow boxing affairs, teams not giving too much away because of the prospect of them meeting up again down the line.

However, as the league campaign starts to draw to a close a management team will want to put out as near as they can get to the 15 that will be in place for the opening assignment in the provincial championship.

They probably do that anyway behind closed doors in an A versus B encounter a week or 10 days out from the first game in the province.

That’s all well and good but getting them playing together against another inter-county opponent might yield a better dividend and make up their minds before they meet up on the Tuesday or Wednesday night to finalise the team.

They must be in a position where they believe they can place their full trust in any newcomers that are in the running.

Competition for places on every inter-county team has to be intense and, in fact, you now must have adequate cover for every position on the field.

Limerick were the best team by a good distance in last season’s league and championship but that’s not saying that the same 15 will be on the starting block when they take on Cork in the opening round of this season’s Munster championship.

There is fierce competition for starting places on this Limerick team and any other county wishing to match them or overtake them must have that similar intensity for inclusion.

Cork have done most of what has been required of them thus far in this NHL campaign but it’s very likely that bigger questions will be posed in their remaining two encounters.

There might be a little bit of uncertainty surrounding their game with Limerick next weekend given the close proximity of their championship collision a few weeks later.

GAINING AN EDGE

Both may not want to show too much of their hand in the league game while at the same time they might want to gain a bit of a psychological edge before the far more important championship clash.

To repeat ourselves from previous columns, we did see that last season when Waterford defeated Cork in the league and followed that up in the Munster championship.

It was a similar tale with Limerick and Tipperary, Limerick putting down a marker in the league. Conversely, the league result could be a lot different when the same two teams meet up later.

Cork’s final league game against Galway next Sunday week might be a bit more revealing in terms of what the championship 15 might look like.

Cork's Niall Cashman and Westmeath's Killian Doyle. The rookie wing-back has started three successive games.  Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork's Niall Cashman and Westmeath's Killian Doyle. The rookie wing-back has started three successive games.  Picture: Eddie O'Hare

A number of players have not featured that much or at all in this league campaign because of injury and the management will certainly want to get some game-time into them. Too often in the past, we have seen Cork teams almost selecting themselves. This time the belief is that the competition for places will be far greater.

Giving youth too much of a fling in a vital championship clash can be risky but it can work in your favour too.

The current Cork management have some excellent, young material at their disposal now, the best for quite some time. We have seen some of them come up with the goods when getting their opportunity in the league and there is some momentum being gathered.

Young players must want it very badly to get that shirt and from what we have seen thus far the portents are good.

Of course, when you have so many good, young hurlers coming through and challenging for places, the priority will be to strike the right balance.

In the next week or so there are some big decisions for Kieran Kingston and his team to make as far as getting what they believe is their best starting 15 out on the field for the championship showdown with Limerick.

Management teams must be a bit brave too, taking a gamble with players and hope it pays off. But that’s why they are there, to make the big calls before and during the game.

There has been a freshness and more aggression to this Cork set-up from what we have seen. And while there won’t be a pundit anywhere who will fancy them to beat Limerick later this month, you can be certain that even if John Kiely won’t fear Cork he'll be very wary.

It is certainly going to be very interesting to see what Kingston and his selectors will come up with for that huge game.

On Friday, we’ll try and get as close as we can to the answer.

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