Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A
Cork v Galway
Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 1.45pm
While things aren’t exactly on a knife-edge ahead of Cork’s final hurling league game – the result will have no actual effect on the championship – there is more than a bit riding on it in terms of perception.
Win and it will be the perfect response to last week’s loss against Limerick, ensuring that Cork finish with three victories from five games played and, if Tipperary were to fail to beat Waterford, it would be enough to top Group A.
However, a loss would mean that Cork would be finishing off the league with two defeats in a row and one of their two wins having come against bottom side Westmeath, the other against Waterford in the opening round. A promising upward curve would have taken a downward swing.
Cork can finish anywhere from first place to fifth and where they do land will shape expectations in the lead-in to the Munster SHC semi-final against Limerick in Thurles in just over three weeks. Win a poor match on Sunday and the result and its knock-on effect on the table will overshadow the performance; equally, Cork could play really well and lose a cracker by a point against one of the top three sides in the country but such considerations would be missed in the wider narrative of finishing in the bottom half of the table.
Former Kilkenny selector Martin Fogarty made a good point recently, when speaking about Antrim’s upturn in form.
“People are talking about how well Antrim are doing,” he says, “and they are doing well, but I always say that winning is not a measurement of how a county is doing, because success is relative.
“In order to win, you have to be brilliant when everybody else is very good; or you have to be very good when everybody else is good; or, if you’re just good and everybody else is poor, you can actually win. It depends on who else is around.
“If Antrim scored a point less on Saturday, or a point or two less against Clare, it would be the same Antrim team, as good as they are, but people wouldn’t be talking about them in the same way. You can have a team that’s very good but which happens to be meeting a team that’s better and suddenly there’s a crisis in the county.”
We’ve had more than enough crises and ‘Where now for Cork hurling?’ pieces to last us a while, so we won’t pre-empt any more of that and instead take the Galway game on its merits.
While there was surely a sense that Cork were holding something back against Limerick in favour of trying to hit them with something unexpected in the championship, it’s likely that Sunday’s clash will act as a proper warm-up for the real thing and the team sent out by Kieran Kingston and his management will reflect that, injuries notwithstanding.
In assessing things after Limerick, he conceded that Colm Spillane (knee) and Bill Cooper (Achilles) are not likely to be available for the immediate future, but there are better prospects with regard to players such as Tim O’Mahony, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Seán O’Donoghue, Séamus Harnedy, Eoin Cadogan, Alan Cadogan.
The majority of them are likely to be part of the championship 15 and it is important for the management and the players to have a strong idea of who will be playing, and where, the benefits of versatility notwithstanding.
If there was one bright spot from Limerick, it was that Cork scored two goals and created at least four more chances – even though Limerick were without three of their first-choice back seven, it is something that should bode well. Galway, who share top spot with Tipperary going into Sunday, a point ahead of Cork, have conceded seven goals in their four games to date and there should be more opportunities for the home side on that front.
The Tribesman have scored 9-108 (135), compared to 16-84 (132) for Cork, but only Westmeath (2-66) have a lower white-flag tally than the Rebels. Galway put 4-28 past Waterford last week and, after allowing 33 points against Limerick – who had 20 wides – Cork will need to show that they are not sitting ducks for sides with strong firepower.
Shane O’Neill’s men’s only setback so far was against Tipperary and they have benefited from the likes of Evan Niland, Brian Concannon, Conor Whelan and Conor Cooney easing the scoring burden on Joe Canning, which in turn has allowed the Portumna man to impact as a creator as well as a finisher.
Semi-finalists last year, running Limerick close, there is a case to be made that Galway are the second-best side in the country, behind the champions: it’s a good acid test for Cork to show that they can bounce back quickly.