John Horgan on hurling: Kilkenny clash a good test of Cork's progress

League semi-final will take place in Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 7.15pm this Saturday
John Horgan on hurling: Kilkenny clash a good test of Cork's progress

Ger Collins of Cork in action against Oisín Pepper of Wexford in Sunday's Allianz Hurling League game. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

THE GAA will have been quite happy with how the group stage of the league concluded.

Wexford, Cork, Waterford and Kilkenny are the last four teams standing, with Wexford facing the Déise and Cork taking on the old foe from Noreside.

Munster against Leinster in both, which might add a bit more spice to the games.

If it had been two teams from the same province there might have been a reluctance to display the full-hand with the provincial round-robin so close. The potential is now there for two semi-finals and a final to add some gloss to a competition that has, for the most part, never really caught fire.

As we stated recently, the games lacked a real cutting edge, scores came too easily in quite a few games and the lopsided nature of some were not advantageous to anyone.

Jack O'Connor of Wexford signs hurleys. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Jack O'Connor of Wexford signs hurleys. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Unless something fairly dramatic occurred in the final games at the group stage, the identity of the four teams through to the semi-finals was already as good as known. Cork and Wexford had already secured their semi-final spots before meeting while in Division 1B, Waterford and Kilkenny were odds-on to make it through which they duly did.

The relegation contenders were as good as revealed as well, Antrim already consigned to play the bottom team in Division 1A and we all knew that Offaly had not a snowball’s chance in hell of defeating Limerick.

For most teams, the focus now switches to the championship and its very early start of April 17. They will take what positives they can from the league.

Cork’s unbeaten run came to an end at Wexford Park, the hosts running out deserving winners but Cork are surely not going to lose too much sleep at the outcome. Who knows the counties might square up to each other again on Sunday week in the final if they both progress.

That’s for another day and it’s first things first with those two semi-finals.

From the two divisions, Wexford are the only side with a 100 percent record and that will be of great satisfaction for new boss Darragh Egan. For a new man in any county, it’s all about building up momentum and Egan has certainly done that.

Cork, despite the absence of players who will hold most of the keys to their championship prospects, produced a spirited display at a venue that you never get anything easy from. 

Rory O’Connor was the main difference between the teams in the opening half and his 1-7 ensured that Wexford had a commanding lead of eight at the interval.

Cork did waste a few good scoring opportunities and that type of profligacy needs to be eradicated. They did bring it back to just three points with 15 or so minutes remaining but Wexford had the heavier artillery.

A five-point loss away in Wexford Park without so many certain championship starters is nothing to be ashamed of and from the group stage of the campaign, the positives certainly outweighed the negatives for Kieran Kingston’s men.

Now, of course, the big question is, do Cork go all out to win the league? Especially with a big championship showdown against Limerick is just a fortnight after the final.

It’s a very similar situation for the other three counties involved next weekend and as we have already stated in a previous column, the commencement of the championship is too close to the conclusion of the league.

But it is what it is and the approach from the four management teams will be interesting as will be their team selections.

From a Cork viewpoint, the league has been productive and the management have given plenty of players the opportunity to show if they are realistic championship contenders. Crucial now is the depth of your panel, players that can be trusted to come in and produce the goods if the need arises.

At this stage, the main management teams must have a very good idea of the men that they will want for the big championship tests.

All four of the competing counties next weekend have a need for a national title and winning a league title might just provide them with the fillip required going into those big championship battles when the margin for error will be at an absolute minimum.

Who knows, the best wine in this league campaign is being held over for the final two weekends.

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