John Horgan on a league that raised as many questions as answers for Cork

Our hurling expert reflects on a very mixed warm-up for the 2021 championship 
John Horgan on a league that raised as many questions as answers for Cork

Cork's Tim O'Mahony and Cathal Mannion of Galway battle for possession on Sunday. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

SIGNING off on one campaign before the beginning of another with a disappointing defeat has to be viewed as a worry.

That was Cork last Sunday against Galway, ending the NHL campaign three weeks before they set off on the championship trail So, the old adage, a good start is half the battle did not apply to Kieran Kingston’s men.

Five points from six in the opening three games represented a very positive return but subsequent poor losses to Limerick and now Galway quickly took a lot of the gloss off the opening encounters against Waterford, Tipperary and Westmeath We have been at pains to stress that you should never put a great amount of store into league results, whether they are good or bad but, at the same time, they cannot be dismissed too lightly either.

There was a 12-point turnaround at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork ahead by seven shortly after the break before ending up on the back of a five-point loss. League game or not, that is not what you want, especially after a fairly fruitful opening 35 minutes.

The stats speak for themselves, Galway scored 3-13 in the second half, Cork secured 0-11 thus losing that second-half by 3-2. 


So what are we to take away from the five games that Cork have been involved in?

Make that four, because with the greatest of respect to Westmeath, that game was a mismatch of gargantuan proportions which you could read nothing into at all.

The positives certainly were the ability of the team to post goals, a grand total of 18. Those goals were well spread out too, some of them sublimely executed.

Having the ability to nail goals can be crucial at the end of any day but it remains to be seen now if that impressive return can be built upon when the much more difficult championship questions are posed.

The Cork management has given youth its fling in this league campaign and a few of those brought in did themselves no harm at all. But another big question, are they ready for the white heat of Munster championship hurling against the best team in the country in three weeks?

Conor Whelan goes past Mark Coleman to score a crucial goal. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Conor Whelan goes past Mark Coleman to score a crucial goal. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Only the management knows the answer to that question.

At the conclusion of any league campaign, management should have the bulk of their championship starters in place. Is that the case here? The game plan of short puck-outs and working the ball through the lines has had its positives and negatives but if it does not yield the desired dividend the consequences can be severe. 

Right now it would take a very smart individual to name the 15 starters for the championship. You could get 11 or 12 right but thereafter there will be some big calls to make.

Jack O’Connor has almost certainly played himself onto the 15 and his four league goals will have boosted his confidence considerably. Darragh Fitzgibbon’s four points were very well taken on Sunday and he’s now one of the most vital members of this team alongside Patrick Horgan.

We all know how a game of hurling can change in a matter of minutes which it did last Sunday but coughing up a seven-point advantage should not be happening. At the same time, league results are never the end of the world.


There are still the bones of three weeks to go now to the championship and the training ground takes on added importance for both the Cork management and players. One or two hell for leather A v B games must be arranged where the management will get the opportunity to make up their mind up on some of the fringe players.

And was it not on that same training ground that decided the fate of so many Kilkenny hurlers during their golden years.

This national league has had many names, including the phoney war and a glorified challenge game circuit.

It’s up to everybody to form their own opinions and we must wait for the big championship throw-in before we know how relevant it has all been.

Waterford and Clare will get it going in Munster next Sunday week and they’ll be coming in on the back of two fine wins over Tipperary and Kilkenny respectively.

Cork come in on the back of two losses but a win over Limerick, tall order though it is going to be, would quickly render those results very irrelevant.

We must wait and see.

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