Cork fans starting to dream again after Rebels roared back to beat Cats

Championship will be far tougher but reaching a league final proved Kieran Kingston's side are contenders for glory
Cork fans starting to dream again after Rebels roared back to beat Cats

Cork's Ger Mellerick with supporters after the league semi-final win. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

IN his Irish Examiner column this week former Cork hurler Eoin Cadogan wrote: “This Kilkenny team will be coming to town to lay down a marker, to show that last year was a once-off. For Cork, this is exactly what they should be craving ahead of championship. Physicality, aggression, work-rate.”

Well, they certainly did that. Right from the throw-in, the Cats were in the faces of their hosts. Classic Kilkenny, not giving Cork an inch and showing massive amounts of aggression in the tackle.

It took them just 10 seconds to score and with just five minutes gone they had raced into a 1-4 to 0-1 lead and were deserving of it.

Cork were finding it difficult to deal with their raw physicality, which was surprising in that it was flagged up in advance. Still, it was tough going from a dead-rubber match with Wexford six days earlier to a full-tilt battle with Brian Cody’s side.

It took a while but the Rebels started to grow into the game, closing down the space all over the field.

When Cork had the sliotar and ran hard, they caused Kilkenny all sorts of problems and by the time we reached the 22nd minute, the sides were level. They were forcing a lot of frees.

When Cork moved the ball at pace it sent panic waves through the Kilkenny backline.

By the same token, the Rebels had issues of their own at the back. Seán O’Donoghue was out with an injury and rookie full-back Daire O’Leary was left exposed. A second goal pushed the margin out to four at half-time.

O’Leary has played at full-back against Galway, Wexford, and Limerick in the league and impressed. However, it has to be remembered he is still young enough to feature on the U20 team and this will be another stepping stone in what should be a long career in the red jersey.

A knock just before half-time ensured he didn’t emerge for the restart, with Damien Cahalane moving back to his familiar spot. Tim O’Mahony came on and added a bit of steel and experience to the half-back line.

Cork's Damien Cahalane after defeating Kilkenny at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Cork's Damien Cahalane after defeating Kilkenny at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

Robert Downey upped the ante you would have hardly known Walter Walsh was on the pitch in the second half.

Referring back to Cadogan’s article he said that whoever marks Walsh will get a test that would prepare them for the “physical challenge that Gearóid Hegarty will bring come championship on April 17.”

Well, Downey showed that he is more than up for that. It’s a job he’s done before and will be a massive factor in that colossal championship battle on Easter Sunday.

At the other end of the field, the question for the Cork attack was whether they could match the intensity and work-rate they brought against Limerick in the league back in February, particularly in the first half.

Well any time you beat the Cats you have to do that and over the 70 minutes, they did. They kept at it, even when things weren’t going their way early on.

Alan Connolly put in an impressive display at full-forward and certainly has put up his hand up for a place in the championship 15.

Conor Lehane and Robbie O’Flynn also played their parts and Patrick Horgan always kept the scoreboard ticking over. Even if he was obviously disappointed to be taken off in the last quarter, just after he’d scored from play.

Cork also replaced Shane Kingston for the closing stages but when they had the likes of Seamus Harnedy and Jack O’Connor in reserve they had to maximise their panel. Kilkenny didn’t have the same depth, especially with TJ Reid still marked absent after a hectic winter with Ballyhale Shamrocks.

SUPERB

The displays of Ciarán Joyce and Darragh Fitzgibbon deserved to be highlighted. They were both superb. It was no surprise to see the latter named Man of the Match by TG4.

Darragh Fitzgibbon goes past Kilkenny's Paddy Deegan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Darragh Fitzgibbon goes past Kilkenny's Paddy Deegan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Despite a poor start, the Rebels showed they have moved on from last year, especially the nightmare that was the All-Ireland final. They’ve upped their performances to another level, and are now a match for anyone.

Right now Cork can believe in themselves and go into the league decider knowing they are starting to gain respect again.

Championship will be far tougher but come April 17 against Limerick they will be ready. Kieran Kingston and his management team will focus on the league final first and hopefully they will lift the silverware and in doing give them another boost.

While nothing is won yet, Cork have shown enough in the league to go into the championship full of confidence and should fear no one at this stage. The Rebel roar is gaining momentum with every game; long may that continue.

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