John Horgan on hurling: Cork need to look at new defensive options

"Kieran Kingston added some of the two successful U20 teams to the squad and may well be thinking of a quick promotion for some, especially with Eoin Cadogan retiring..."
John Horgan on hurling: Cork need to look at new defensive options

Cormac O'Brien, Newtownshandrum, in action for his club against Blackrock. The U20 graduate could be a corner-back option for the seniors. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

LIMERICK first at home, Waterford second in Walsh Park, Clare third at home and Tipperary next in line at Semple Stadium.

That’s the schedule of games facing Cork in the Munster hurling championship next season, every assignment when only your best will be sufficient.

In the two years, 2018 and 2019 when it was first introduced, the format proved to be a resounding success before it had to revert to knockout last season and in 2020 because of the Covid situation.

Now, however, it’s game on again, and while there will be a national league to deal with first, the expectation levels for the championship will be at an all-time high, both here in Munster and in Leinster too where Kilkenny legend Henry Sheffling will be managing Galway against his own county.

The bottom line in both provinces is that four major hurling counties will have their season terminated in early Summer as only the top three in both will make it through to the All-Ireland series.

Here in Munster, two from Limerick, Cork, Tipperary, Clare and Waterford will be done.

Cian Lynch of Limerick celebrates after scoring a point against Cork. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cian Lynch of Limerick celebrates after scoring a point against Cork. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

The top two in each province will contest the final with the two winners going straight through to the All-Ireland semi-final and the losing finalists going into the quarters.

It promises to be a fascinating couple of weeks while the drama is being played out, probably more so in Munster because the province has never been so competitive and the playing field never as level.

Every county will host two games and play two at the home of their opponents, it could not be fairer and those who fail to extend their championship season will have nobody to blame but themselves.

Cork’s two home games, as aforementioned, are against the All-Ireland champions for the past two seasons Limerick and favourites to make it three on the trot and Clare.

The strong belief will be that winning your two home games will be vital as the trips to Walsh Park and Thurles for the tasks against Waterford and Tipperary will be just as difficult.

A county that wins its opening home game is on the front foot immediately whilst a defeat could prove very damaging going forward and lessens considerably the margin for further error.

So competitive Munster now is the words cut-throat and minefield could be applied immediately.

FAVOURITES

Limerick, given how well they have performed in the past two seasons, will be expected to emerge but thereafter it would require the wisdom of Solomon to name the other two.

Having won the last two All-Ireland U20 titles with an All-Ireland minor title thrown in, Cork would seem to have laid a firm base for the next couple of years. And having contested last season’s All-Ireland final, that should further add a bit more of an optimistic note going forward.

But, as we all know, winning underage titles and being a runner-up one season is never any guarantee thereafter and only a select number of players make it through to compete successfully on the bigger stage.

Every game in this Munster Championship will be ferociously fought and nothing at all is likely to come easy.

Cork will be facing one of the best teams of the modern era when they open up against Limerick and Waterford will be buoyant that Liam Cahill rejected taking charge of his own county.

They will have outstanding defender Tadhg de Búrca back in the equation while Pauric Mahony could be there too after featuring for Ballygunner in the Munster club championship opener with Ballyea. And history has illustrated that Walsh Park is not a very forgiving place.

Brian Lohan will have Clare in a better place too and we all know how close they were to ending Cork’s season last time out when Patrick Collins denied Tony Kelly right at the death.

Tipperary will be hoping for a big bounce with Com Bonnar after taking the managerial reins and he is sure to bring a different approach up there.

The task for all five counties in Munster is very similar given how competitive the field now is and long, long gone are the days when Tipp and Cork were the dominant forces.

Kieran Kingston has added a few of the two successful U20 teams to his squad and he may well be thinking of a quick promotion for some of them. He and his selectors will have had a good, hard look at the players that he hopes will graduate during the various championship games across the grades in the Cork championships.

He will be mindful at the same time that inter-county senior hurling is a big step up and only certain types of individuals will have that ability. There will be a greater focus on the defensive strengths of the team and once and for all nailing down the full-back and centre-back berths will have to be a priority.

Glen Rovers' Eoin Downey wins the ball from Sarsfields' Luke Hackett. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Glen Rovers' Eoin Downey wins the ball from Sarsfields' Luke Hackett. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Eoin Cadogan is out of the plan now and replacing a player of his experience and teak-tough nature won’t be easy. 

However, there are some excellent, young defenders coming to the forefront, Ciarán Joyce, Eoin Downey, Cormac O’Brien plus Midleton’s Tommy O’Connell, who had an outstanding county championship campaign.

It will be very much, of course, of getting these highly promising players to blend in with those who are more experienced. A positive national league campaign will be important and provide the right bit of momentum for what is sure to be a monumental Munster championship.

But that, of course, applies to all the five counties.

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