WERE Cork right or wrong to take the approach they did at the LIT Gaelic Grounds on Saturday night?
The answer is of course one that will be dictated by 70 minutes of unrelated hurling in just under four weeks’ time. Such is the nature of discourse around sport – we draw comparisons where they might not always exist.
Phil Mickelson’s wonder shot from the trees at the 13th hole in the 2010 Masters – it was brilliant, but he missed the birdie putt, so chipping out and getting up and down would have achieved the same end-goal. Roy Keane ‘psyching out’ Patrick Vieira in the Highbury tunnel before a game in 2005 – Manchester United did indeed win the game but Vieira put Arsenal ahead inside ten minutes.
Anyway, we digress. If Cork beat Limerick in Thurles on July 3, then it will have been a masterstroke not to show too much of a hand in the league; but if Limerick win without being pushed again, then it will have been a waste of a good opportunity to test the All-Ireland champions before the real thing.
You can see the logic of Cork doing what they did, to an extent. For the pretenders seeking to earn a championship spot, it was the ultimate test in terms of intensity, while there is a sense that, if Cork are to cause an upset in the championship, they are better off not giving John Kiely’s side a preview. The flipside of that is that, as the champions, Limerick are the team most studied by everyone else and, in any case, they have the success-imbued confidence to say to teams, “This is what we do, try your best to outdo us.”
To that end, this Sunday’s clash with Galway will be informative – if the Tribesmen look at Limerick’s template for frustrating Cork’s style, will there be a different response?
Manager Kieran Kingston said after the Limerick game that he would have taken Cork’s current situation – five points after four games – at the start of the league but if Galway were to win, it would leave Cork with a record of two wins, a draw and two losses, a point better than last year’s inconsistent campaign. That said, Cork go into the final round with a chance to top the table, so we shouldn’t look at it in a negative light just yet.
Galway are at the top of the charts with six points, Sunday’s shootout win over Waterford in Salthill giving them a better scoring difference than Tipperary, while Cork are a point behind them. If Cork do win, they would leapfrog Galway and first place would then depend on Tipp do against Waterford.
A Tipp win would obviously leave them on top on their own, while a Waterford victory would ensure that Cork are at the summit. A Cork win and a Tipp-Waterford draw would leave the Rebels and the Premier County both on six points.
When two teams are level on points, the head-to-head record is used as a tie-breaker but, as Cork drew in Thurles, scoring difference will be the determining factor. Currently, Cork are +32 with Liam Sheedy’s team on +28, so they would have the edge in that regard.
A Galway win would almost certainly give them first place, given the seven-point advantage over Tipp in the scoring difference stakes, while a Cork-Galway draw would mean Shane O’Neill’s side would be waiting on the Tipp result.
In Group B, Kilkenny cannot now be caught at the top and so they are in the league final – but it will only be played if the two section winners were to meet each other in the championship.
Like the Cats’ position, the outcome of the relegation play-off is decided before the final round of games, with Westmeath and Laois both after four losses and the sides directly above them – Limerick and Antrim respectively – having three-point cushions.