John Horgan: Limerick out in front but Cork hurlers are right back in the mix

Rebels have room to improve but face Dublin with a new-found confidence
John Horgan: Limerick out in front but Cork hurlers are right back in the mix

Cork's Shane Kingston celebrates scoring his goal against Clare. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

APART from being successful on the provincial stage, the priority for a leading hurling county is to be involved at the business end of the All-Ireland campaign.

Cork have successfully achieved that objective by being one of the six counties remaining in the chase for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

Last Saturday’s victory over Clare could be summed up in one sentence, a job well done in the end but a lot more work lies ahead if the hurling Summer is to be extended.

Since Kieran Kingston secured the manager’s bib for a second spell last season he has been at pains in stressing consistency from game to game and within games has to be prioritised.

It’s a fair comment but that is something that is not easily achieved.

In both All-Ireland quarter-finals last Saturday at various stages it looked like the mission was accomplished for the winners, Waterford and Cork.

Waterford were coasting towards the winner’s enclosure when they led Galway by 16 points at one stage while Cork had constructed a six-point advantage against Clare as the game entered its dying embers.

In the end, both secured the victory but not without a huge fright.

Waterford had that huge advantage reduced to a puck of a ball before closing out the game while Cork had to rely on a save for the ages from Patrick Collins to prevent Clare from stealing the victory.

Patrick Collins with Aron Shanagher of Clare. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Patrick Collins with Aron Shanagher of Clare. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Once again, in both instances, it was illustrated how fragile any lead can be at this level of hurling.

That consistency of performance over 70 minutes may eventually be the key to landing the big prize but thus far in this season of hurling it has not been achieved in most of the games.

Cork and Waterford got the job done and both will benefit from the challenge that they got from Clare and eventually by Galway respectively. The victory will make them both that bit more battle-hardened for the quarter-final challenges they face and they both have got a bit of momentum behind them again.

Cork were deserving winners over Clare as were Waterford against Galway even allowing for the late jitters that affected both of them.

Every team will reflect on the positives and negatives in the aftermath and from a Cork perspective, the positives outweighed the latter.

Of course, first and foremost there would have been no quarter-final to be looking forward to if it wasn’t for Patrick Collins' sublime stop at the death from Tony Kelly of all people. When Kelly gained possession and headed in towards goal you would nearly have had the house on him to convert.

That he didn’t because of the excellence of the young man from Ballinhassig is history now and he is well on the road to being a very worthy successor to some of the goalkeeping greats of Cork hurling. 

When the team was announced and Rob Downey was named in the number three jersey there might have been a slight concern that the aerial threat of Aron Shanagher might be a bit of a problem. Not so at all and for this observer’s money, the Glen defender was the Man of the Match.

Following on from the Limerick game, the Cork defence as a unit could not be criticised, all the more because the sector had lost two very experienced campaigners in Damien Cahalane and Eoin Cadogan to pre-match injuries.

Ger Millerick continues to grow in stature as does Sean O’Donoghue and there’s plenty of cohesion among the numbers two to seven.

IMPACT SUBS

There was some surprise that neither Shane Barrett or Alan Connolly were not named on the first 15 but when called upon they both made vital contributions with a haul of 1-2.

Cork and Blarney players Mark Coleman and Shane Barrett after the win on Saturday. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cork and Blarney players Mark Coleman and Shane Barrett after the win on Saturday. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

And that is another vital key in unlocking the opposition defence, all the more so in the searing heat we have been enjoying, the ability to bring in players from the bench who can make a difference.

And that has what made Limerick what they are today and the clear favourites to retain the McCarthy Cup.

Most pundits were in agreement that if Cork were to make an impact in this campaign, goals would be necessary and the three that were secured last Saturday made all the difference. All three were tastily converted but the pace and execution from Jack O’Connor’s was a joy to behold Patrick Horgan regained his form and he delivered some huge points apart from those that he converted from the dead ball.

Seamie Harnedy got a brace of points, missed a couple of more but he put in a huge shift and gained some vital possessions.

The work-rate of the team as a whole could not be faulted and Cork hurling, in general, is in a strong place at this point in time.

Limerick are still the team to beat in this championship but with a bit more consistency and better finishing, Cork are as good as what’s left outside of the Shannonsiders.

It could all be different after next weekend but this Cork bunch of players have given themselves a decent chance of the summer being extended a bit further. And that’s all that can be asked for right now.

The boats continue to be lifted from the rising tide and the good example set by the minors and U20s.

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