CORK hurling manager Kieran Kingston will be running the rule over players on both sides as the Rebels begin 2022 with a clash against UCC in the Canon O’Brien Cup at the Mardyke tonight (7pm).
The annual clash in honour of the great All-Ireland and Fitzgibbon Cup-winning manager returns after a hiatus in 2021 and, with Cork not having taken part in the Co-op SuperStores Munster Hurling Cup, it’s a chance to blow off some cobwebs following the team holiday in Tenerife.
Kingston didn’t travel but he’s keen to build on what was a positive year last year.
“It was a good year and a difficult year,” he says.
“Getting to the final was good but the final itself was obviously hugely disappointing. For a young group, most of the panel have come together during Covid years with a limited ability to get to know each other – no dressing rooms, no travelling together, no social activities.
“It was good for them to get a chance to go away together from that point of view.”
Building on a first final appearance from 2013 means learning from the positive and negative aspects of last season.
“You have to look at both,” Kingston says.
“Getting to the final was great, only the second time since Cork last won it, especially having lost six of the last seven All-Ireland semi-finals; winning three games in a row, especially that semi-final and breaking those unwanted records, so to speak.
“There were a lot of positives for a young group, getting to a first final, having had a good run of games for the first time in a while. The final was disappointing but it’s about taking the learnings from that and moving it on another bit.
“A line is drawn in the sand on that. You have to look back at it, of course, you have to review the game and the year as a whole.
“We’ve done that, the final and all of the other games, and now we’re looking to move on.”
It’s a slightly retooled Cork as Pat Mulcahy and Noel Furlong having joined the management team as Ger Cunningham and Christy O’Connor have departed while Stephen Casey is the new strength and conditioning coach. On the playing side, stars of the last two All-Ireland U20 wins have been added while Conor Lehane returns, with Eoin Cadogan, Bill Cooper and Colm Spillane retiring.
“You’ve two new selectors and hurling coaches in Noel and Pat,” Kingston says, “and a strength and conditioning coach in Stephen, all very experienced and great guys.
“It’s brilliant to have them on board and then you’ve Gary Keegan, who’s back working with us, having been with me before.
“He’s still with the Irish rugby team, having finished up with Dublin football team. It’s great to have guys like that on board.
“We’ve changes to the panel as well, leaving us with a very young group. We’ve 22 or 23 of our panel of 37 involved with college sides and that’s a big challenge at this time of year.
“We didn’t compete in the Munster league and the holiday had only a part to play in that, it’s important that you take player welfare into account, too. You’d some players not long finished club championship and some still involved at provincial level.
One upshot of that is that Kingston will be managing against so many of his players tonight.
“Two thirds of the UCC team will probably be Cork guys!” he laughs.
“It’s good in one way and it’ll give us a sense of how lads are recovering from their holiday!
“We’ve 31 guys who are 24 or younger and that’s hugely positive and it’s great to have that. It’s challenging at this time of year with the college games, but outside of that it’s good for us and for Cork hurling.”
· There is no admission fee for the game but there will be a collection for Carrigtwohill St Vincent de Paul SVP as the late Margot Hartnett is remembered.