John Horgan: Cork hurlers must now cope with the weight of expectation

Rebels are on a roll but they need to respect the quality of a Dublin team that beat Galway
John Horgan: Cork hurlers must now cope with the weight of expectation

Cork's Ger Millerick with Ryan Taylor of Clare. The 23-year-old defender is thriving after missing 2020 through injury. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

ALTHOUGH he would not admit it but given the choice, Kieran Kingston would have taken Dublin over Tipperary in tomorrow’s All-Ireland SHC quarter-final, 7pm, live on Sky Sports.

Well, the Cork boss got his wish last Monday morning when the details of the draw were revealed and whether they like it or not, the Cork management will have to accept that they are now favourites to be in the last four in the chase for the prize that has eluded the county since 2005.

That is not saying Cork will have it handy tomorrow against the county that they eliminated from the race last season in the opening round of the qualifiers.

It’s just that history and tradition will decree that nine times out of 10, Cork will always be fancied to overcome the Dubs.

However, while there will be optimism in the Cork camp going into tomorrow’s big game, there will be caution too because this Dublin unit of players with everybody available have shown already in the current campaign that they should not be taken lightly.

Ousting Galway from the Leinster championship was, obviously, the big story up there and subsequently, without a number of key personnel, putting in an admirable shift in the final before Kilkenny got a run on them to retain the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.

Cork travelled a good few miles along the road to redemption last weekend after displaying an abundance of character in ending Clare’s campaign.

That victory was very much needed in the overall scheme of things for Cork hurling and it has given this group of players a nice bit of momentum entering the more business end of the season.

Cork beat a fine Clare side last Saturday in the Gaelic Grounds, it went right to the wire as was generally anticipated and in these types of games where the margins are so small, you have to survive a scare or two coming down the home stretch.

Cork had to do that when Patrick Collins denied Tony Kelly with a last-gasp, wonder save and before the Clare great pulled the trigger our minds flashed back to a Sunday in 1995 when Ollie Baker stole it for the Banner with a similar last-gasp goal.

Maybe if he hadn’t done so that day we’d have heard no more from that great Clare team who went on to claim the All-Ireland that year and subsequently in 1997. Now, maybe something similar will happen with this Cork team but that’s too premature altogether to be talking about at this juncture.

Cork manager Kieran Kingston before the win over Clare. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Cork manager Kieran Kingston before the win over Clare. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

For now, it’s all about Mattie Kenny’s Dublin and the challenge that they will bring with them tomorrow.

Kilkenny’s superiority over them in the Leinster final was a bit diluted because of what transpired in the Dublin camp not long before the game when a few key players were ruled out because of Covid situation. Then star full-back Eoghan O’Donnell lasted just a few minutes before he departed through injury.

They have one of the best if not the best ‘keeper’s in the country in Alan Nolan who was sensational in the defeat of Galway.

Liam Rushe, Conor Burke, Chris Crummey, Donal Burke and Danny Sutcliffe are among the top hurlers in the country and that gives the team a formidable backbone.

However, Cork showed in the aftermath of the loss to Limerick that they used the three-week break well on the training ground and that was very clear last Saturday.

There was a greater work ethic overall, there were no panic buttons pushed when Clare got their noses in front in the last quarter and the character of the team and the subs that were introduced shone through.

The importance of that win just cannot be emphasised enough while conversely if that Kelly effort at the death had been converted it would have been a disaster and could have set the county back an awful long way at a time when hurling in the county was on an upward trajectory.

PROGRESS

This is a very young Cork team, maybe still a year off being major All-Ireland contenders but a place in the last four this time would represent considerable progress.

For any county to be successful now, an absolute requirement is a real depth in your squad. In fact, you need viable contenders in every position and Cork are doing much better in that regard.

Damien Cahalane had been going well before he was ruled out last Saturday but Rob Downey fitted seamlessly in at number three. Ger Millerick was always touted as a player for future reference a year or two ago but he had been plagued with injury.

Now, however, he’s cementing his place in the defence and looks set to be a Cork hurler for a long time to come.

Shane Barrett and Alan Connolly are doing the business up front when called upon and are very close to being in from the start Cork are scoring and creating goal chances too and Jack O’Connor is developing into a key player who has to be one of the fastest attackers around.

All that might make it seem that everything is rosy in the garden after the win over Clare but every game is different with different challenges.

Cork, though should be good enough to prevail tomorrow.

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