John Horgan on hurling: Kieran Kingston has some big calls to make before Cork face Limerick

Nature of the league final loss to Waterford has raised huge doubts about the Rebels' championship prospects
John Horgan on hurling: Kieran Kingston has some big calls to make before Cork face Limerick

Cork manager Kieran Kingston reacts during the loss to Waterford. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

TEAMS have lost league finals in the past and gone on to have very good championship campaigns, sometimes ending in provincial and All-Ireland glory.

In those bygone times, the gap between the conclusion of the league and the commencement of the championship was much longer than it is this time, a month might pass by before a county was in competitive action again.

That is certainly not the case now where Cork are concerned, just two weeks since that damaging loss to Waterford in the final before Limerick arrive in town with all guns surely blazing after a more protracted spell on the training ground and more time for injury concerns to be addressed.

This weekend the Cork squad will gather at their training headquarters for what may well prove to be one of the most important of their entire season.

Because after this weekend there won’t or can’t be a whole pile done any more on the training ground and it will just be a case of a lot of fine-tuning to have everything ready for what will be the biggest game of the year up to now.

The starting 15 that will line up against the All-Ireland champions next Sunday week is likely to be put in place for a challenge encounter with what we’ll call the B team.

How they will approach the Limerick game tactically will be very much on the table and the learnings from their previous encounters, most notably last season, will have to be implemented.

The management and Gary Keegan will already have spoken to the players and of the need to put the league final loss to the outer regions of the mind and to try and focus entirely on what is coming down the track.

Cork and the management team know enough about Limerick from last season to realise that things have to be different this time and the fact that Cork secured the league points on offer at the Gaelic Grounds a few weeks back has to be viewed as a bit of a plus.

Cork had some fairly straightforward games to deal with at the group stage of the league, games that lacked real intensity, but they showed a far more aggressive dimension to their game in that win over the Shannonsiders.

And maybe that win will prove to be far more important than it was at the time when the teams collide again in Páirc Ui Chaoimh.

There will be no major surprises to the starting 15 that will be announced next Friday night. 

CHANGES

The management are playing now with the hand they have been dealt and the imperative will be to fill the pivotal positions at full-back, centre-back, and centre and full-forward with the right players for those positions.

Eoin Cadogan in the Irish Examiner last Monday suggested lining out team captain Mark Coleman at number 11. He stated the reasons why and maybe he is right; that’s probably not going to happen but it’s still food for thought.

Coleman too might well be looked at for a role in midfield.

Of the newcomers, Ciaran Joyce is going to be a definite starter but in what position? Cadogan would like to see him at centre-back, a role the former Cork star quite rightly states the young Castlemartyr man understands.

For too long now. Cork hurling has not been able to nail down with absolute certainty who is the best player for the key positions of full-back and centre-back. In fact, not since Diarmuid O’Sullivan and Ronan Curran has that certainty regarding those positions been there.

There are some very big calls to be made by the Cork management over the coming days, calls that might not be to everyone’s liking.

Waterford's Neil Montgomery and Cork's Robert Downey in action last weekend. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Waterford's Neil Montgomery and Cork's Robert Downey in action last weekend. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Waterford, without some near-certain championship starters, got nearly everything right last Saturday night, they were superior in the physical stakes, they were tactically astute and their hurling at times was a joy to behold.

A few of their goals came about far too easily and if Limerick are afforded that type of latitude then Cork could be in a lot of trouble.

That’s why this Cork team selection is more important now than it has been for a long time.

And to repeat from a previous column, with just the one game at home this is one of huge significance and a loss similar to the league final and in previous championship outings with Limerick could have serious ramifications going into the three remaining games, one of them being in the bearpit that Walsh Park will be.

In any group format, a loss one day can be turned into victory the next but in this Munster championship, there is no guarantee whatsoever of that happening.

Cork's Patrick Collins is tackled by Waterford's Michael Kiely. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Cork's Patrick Collins is tackled by Waterford's Michael Kiely. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

And to reiterate, come the middle of June two major hurling counties in Munster will have their season terminated, the same will apply in Leinster. During this week and the weekend coming up, Cork will try to take whatever positives there were in the loss to Waterford.

There were some, Sean O’Donoghue in his marking of Dessie Hutchinson was certainly one, Robbie O’Flynn’s scores towards the game’s end and the introduction of Shane Kingston. Shane Barrett too will start against Limerick as will young Joyce.

But on the night there were not nearly enough and there will have to be a marked improvement in most areas in all aspects of the game.

Cork are conceding big scores far too easily and that’s occurring far too often in finals.

It was only a six-point loss in the end to Waterford but it could easily have been a lot more.

It’s done now and the league in many ways is similar to a jigsaw, putting in the pieces to have it completed for the championship.

And if you haven’t you could pay a heavy price.

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