John Horgan: Cork hurlers' must focus on Munster before they think about getting back to the All-Ireland

Rebels reached hurling's showpiece last summer but they could fail to qualify from the province this season if they're not careful
John Horgan: Cork hurlers' must focus on Munster before they think about getting back to the All-Ireland

Shane Kingston hit a great goal for Cork against Limerick last year but it went downhill after that in the All-Ireland final. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

IN athletics parlance, Limerick hurlers have reached Olympian heights over the past few years and, in fact, you could say that they are at gold medal standard.

It’s very much a case now with the new season looming large, catch us if you can.

With the All-Ireland hurling final now scheduled for the month of July, there will be more attention to detail earlier on and most, if not all, counties are now back in the gyms and on the training pitches too.

Limerick are on the three-in-a-row trail in 2022, many believing that it should be four if they had not been denied a last gasp 65 against Kilkenny in 2019 in the All-Ireland semi-final.

They are the hottest of favourites to retain the MacCarthy Cup again but, at the same time, there are no stonewall guarantees and no matter how well you performed in previous years, every great team comes a cropper eventually.

In the modern era, Kilkenny were the last great, undisputed champions before this current Limerick squad came along. They did the four-in-a-row in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 before Tipperary finally halted their march in 2010.

All great teams eventually get beaten, the Dublin footballers lost their stranglehold on the Sam Maguire trophy last season when Mayo secured a very rare triumph over them in the All-Ireland semi-final.

So, the big question to pose, who is best qualified to end this Limerick sequence of success?

There is every justification for the hot favourites tag to be placed around them again but it must be noted that things could be that bit more difficult this time with the reintroduction of the provincial format which had to be suspended for the previous two seasons because of the Covid situation.

The pathway to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day will not be as clear cut as it has been and emerging as one of the three counties from Munster could be tricky enough.

And all the competing counties in both Munster and Leinster will be mindful of the fact that only three from the five will be going forward into the All-Ireland series.

In Leinster, you would still be inclined to fancy Kilkenny, Galway and Wexford to make it through but the story in Munster does not look nearly as straightforward as that.

That field looks far more competitive and a slip or two early on could put you on the back foot immediately.

Cork should be there or thereabouts in the All-Ireland race given the fact that they reached the final last season. Admittedly, they were a distant second-best to Limerick and the old adage of having to lose one to win one certainly does not apply in most instances.

Limerick manager John Kiely with Cork manager Kieran Kingston. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Limerick manager John Kiely with Cork manager Kieran Kingston. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The younger players on the Cork squad are a year older and a year wiser too maybe but on the evidence presented from last season, in the two games against Limerick, Kieran Kingston’s team have some distance to go to match them.

COMPETITIVE

Selecting the three counties to come out of Munster is hugely difficult although it would be a massive shock if Limerick are not one of them. Thereafter, it’s very much a case of 'take your pick' from the other four because in this observer’s opinion there is not a whole pile between any of them.

Home advantage in the two games that each county will have has to be capitalised upon but again that is easier said than done.

At half-time in the Munster final last season, Tipperary looked to be on the road to Croke Park and an All-Ireland semi-final only for Limerick to swallow them up in the first 10 or 12 minutes of the second half.

Colm Bonnar is in charge in Tipp now and you would expect him to put his own stamp on things and he will try to bring a few more of their winning U21 and U20 All-Ireland winning teams of recent years through. The Tipp team of last season was an ageing one and it’s quite clear that integrating fresh blood into the team is required. 

Clare will want a greater scoring spread from the rest and not to be overly dependent on Tony Kelly all the time. Tadhg de Burca and Pauric Mahony’s potential return will boost Waterford and Cork will hope that the younger guns and one or two of the new members of the squad will have a more physical presence.

The big focus in Leinster will be on Galway and the presence of Henry Shefflin on the line. You could say that Galway have not pushed on from their 2017 All-Ireland victory and we’ll have to see how things will be without Joe Canning.

Shefflin will bring a big bounce, no doubt about that and he will surely try to get in a lot more of their recent All-Ireland minor winning teams.

You never, ever write off Kilkenny but they too have a distance to travel to get near the standard Limerick have set and likely to keep on setting for the foreseeable future given their squad depth.

Wexford have a new management team too but, realistically, they have to be down quite a bit in the pecking order of contenders.

Of course, things can change quickly with injuries and a suspension to a key player but until we see otherwise, it’s very difficult to oppose Limerick in their bid to embellish their status as one of hurling’s great teams.

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