FORMER Cork star Tom Kenny believes that the fact there is more expectation on Kilkenny in tomorrow’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final will allow Cork to almost treat the game as a free shot.
Cork reached the last four with qualifier wins over Clare and Dublin and now face the Leinster champions. Win or lose, the year represents real progress for Kieran Kingston’s side, though Kenny gives them a good chance of going a step further.
“At the start of the year, obviously any Cork team would be aiming for an All-Ireland,” he says, “but, realistically, they were probably saying, ‘If we got to a semi-final in Croke Park, it’s advance of where we’ve been.’
“Now, with the way things have gone, with the wins over Clare – okay, they might have fallen over the line but it was still a good win – and Dublin, they did what they needed to do to win the game.
“The one thing is that you’re hoping the fitness levels are still good, playing a third weekend in a row, but then they do have depth in the panel now, too. They have Shane Barrett and Alan Connolly and a couple of other younger lads that they can bring on, I know they’re unproven as such, but at this stage of the competition and unknown quantity and a bit of fresh legs could catch a team off-guard.
“From that point of view, they definitely have a great chance and I wouldn’t say there’s pressure on them, really, because nobody really expected the team to achieve honours. In that regard, they should nearly view it as a free shot.
“You could argue that Kilkenny – I know they’re Leinster champions and de facto league champions – haven’t won an All-Ireland title since 2015 and, given the success they’ve had, that probably seems like an age so there’s pressure on them and Brian Cody as well to get to a final and win a final. They might need to answer a few questions more than Cork as there would have been more expectation that they’d win an All-Ireland than Cork would.
“The bottom line is that, now that Cork are in a semi-final, it’s one to try to win.”
Cork haven’t won in Croke Park or in a semi-final since 2013, when Kenny played in the victory over Dublin. That year also represents the last victory over Kilkenny, who were beaten in the quarter-finals, but Kenny doesn’t think that such things act as a millstone for the squad.
“As a player, I don’t think those stats would be fresh in their minds,” he says.
“Cork went up in 2014, 2017 and 2018 for semi-finals and were beaten, again in the 2019 quarter-final, so there are probably questions to answer but you don’t want to dwell on that too much.
“You always hear growing up about playing the game and not the occasion and that’s the way they need to approach it – it’s Kilkenny and they need to beat them, rather than focusing on Croke Park and correcting a record there.
“Obviously, every time you go to Croke Park, you want to play and win but if Cork just focus on getting a performance, the result might follow suit after that.”
Regardless of what happens, the overall landscape is bright, Kenny feels.
“You’ve the U20 success as well and a final to come,” he says, “and the minors are going very well, in a Munster final.
“All of a sudden, we’ve gone from a point of not having any trophies in the last 10 or 15 years to having two with the 2020 U20 and this year’s Munster and potentially a third or fourth and Cork contesting a senior semi-final.
“You could take the view that, if Cork are beaten by Kilkenny, the curve has stopped or we’ve got a reality check, I’d like to think that people would still realise it’s an upward trend. Even if Cork do lose, if they can put in a performance and the young lads get game-time and give a good account, that will contribute to next year and the year after.
“Obviously, a win would speed up that process and it would be great but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary for some of the lads’ development.”