CLARE will provide the opposition for Cork’s first competitive hurling game of the year as Kieran Kingston’s side begin their Allianz HL Division 1 Group A campaign with a home clash on February 5.
While Cork had the same five counties – Galway, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford – for company in both the 2020 and 2021 leagues, back in June the GAA re-drew the groupings for 2022 and 2023. It means that Tipperary and Waterford will now compete in Group B as Clare and Wexford move to Group A. Cork will still face Galway and Limerick while the newly promoted Offaly make up the six-team section.
The opening-round clash with Frank Lohan’s side – whom Cork narrowly beat in an All-Ireland SHC qualifier tie in Limerick in July – takes place at Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 5pm on Saturday, February 5, part of a double-header with a football clash between the counties at 7pm that evening.
Eight days later, Bord na Móna O’Connor Park in Tullamore is the venue as Offaly host Cork for a 2pm throw-in while there is a break of a week before the trip to TUS Gaelic Grounds, Cork clashing with Limerick at 3.45pm on Sunday, February 27.
The following Saturday, March 5, Galway visit Páirc Uí Chaoimh for Cork’s second home game, which begins at 7pm, while the regular part of the season ends on Sunday, March 30 with a visit to Chadwicks Wexford Park for a 1.45pm clash with the Model County.
There are no semi-finals in the hurling league, with the top sides in Groups A and B meeting in the final. Similarly, the bottom counties in each group clash with other in the relegation play-off.
Last year, a delayed league campaign was a mix of ups and downs for Cork right until the last round, as they led the ‘live table’ in the second half of their final game against Galway only to finish fifth.
Waterford visited Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the delayed opener on May 9 and it was clear that Cork had their sights set on goals as they won by 5-22 to 1-27, with newcomer Alan Connolly netting twice while Robbie O’Flynn, Jack O’Connor and Shane Kingston each raised a green flag.
They followed that with a trip to Thurles to take on Tipperary. Again, they outgoaled their opposition, with Jack O’Connor putting the visitors 1-1 to 0-3 ahead early on. However, Jason Forde’s frees helped Tipp to a 0-12 to 1-8 interval advantage and then points from John McGrath and Forde extended that lead on the resumption.
Cork were level when Darragh Fitzgibbon set up Patrick Horgan for a goal in the 44th minute and they seized the upper hand then, with subs Daire Connery and Conor Cahalane on target as they led by 2-12 to 0-15. It was 2-16 to 0-20 in injury time but Cork couldn’t see the game out and Cathal Barrett and Forde had points to ensure a share of the spoils for Liam Sheedy’s team.
Any frustrations were burned off the following week as Westmeath were beaten by 7-27 to 0-15 at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, with Patrick Horgan scoring 2-4, Alan Cadogan notching 1-4, Connolly adding to his burgeoning reputation with two more goals while another U20 star, Shane Barrett, got 1-3 and Luke Meade netted the other. It left Cork in strong shape heading to the LIT Gaelic Grounds for the championship dress-rehearsal in early June.
With the management opting to shuffle their pack, a stronger Limerick side were able to lay down a marker for the following month. It was 0-20 to 1-7 at half-time, Jack O’Connor with the Cork goal, and it finished 0-33 to 2-19.
The result meant that there were plenty of permutations ahead of the last match, at home to Galway on June 13. Cork led by 1-2 to 0-1 after five minutes, Conor Cahalane with the goal, and O’Connor netted again coming up to half-time to ensure a 2-12 to 0-12 lead. Horgan’s point left seven in it on the restart but Conor Whelan’s goal brought Galway right back into it and Joseph Cooney cut the lead to just three.
Galway were level at 2-17 each when Conor Cooney scored their second goal on 52. Pádraic Mannion put them in front for the first time and they pushed on, with Cathal Mannion netting to give them a 3-25 to 2-23 win.
After a positive start, Cork’s worst results had come in the latter part of the league, but there were to be better days as the championship went on.