John Horgan on Cork v Limerick: League form can't be trusted as a guide for the Páirc

Cork’s league record was five wins and two losses from seven outings while Limerick secured just one win and a draw from their five assignments. Will this matter on Sunday?
John Horgan on Cork v Limerick: League form can't be trusted as a guide for the Páirc

Limerick's Tom Morrissey and Darragh Fitzgibbon of Cork in league action. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

IF one was to use national league form as a guide to what might transpire in the opening game of the championship season, Cork are more advantageously placed than Limerick to emerge from next Sunday’s showdown at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

Cork’s league record was five wins and two losses from seven outings while Limerick secured just one win and a draw from their five assignments.

One of those Cork victories was against their opponents in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday. However, it’s not as straightforward as that.

Firstly, it was clear early on that Limerick were not putting too many eggs into the league basket this time and that team boss John Kiely and his key influencer, Paul Kinnerk were far more focused on getting their timing right for the big championship questions that required answering further down the line.

At the same time, the Limerick management would not have been happy with some of their league performances.

And the issues that might have concerned them have surely been addressed behind closed doors in the Gaelic Grounds.

Cork, on the other hand, did not have a happy ending to their league campaign, a worrying loss to Waterford in the final even if the margin at the finish was just six points.

Over the past two weeks they have had to deal with the fallout from that game on the training ground and trying to rectify the things that went wrong that day How damaging was that poor league final display? 

Shane Kingston of Cork in action against Conor Gleeson . Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Shane Kingston of Cork in action against Conor Gleeson . Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Is too much being read into it because at the end of the day every hurling season is defined by your championship results?

Once the championship begins the league is very quickly consigned to history and that’s the way it has always been.

Trying to forecast what might happen on a championship Sunday was easier in the past because you had the two starting teams in front of you much earlier in the week.

Nine times out of ten they lined out that way and only a late injury might force a bit of a reshuffle.

Now you must wait until Friday night or maybe Saturday before teams are released and more often than not they don’t line up that way.

Quite rightly, that is an issue of great concern to a lot of people and was addressed by a few experienced delegates at the last meeting of the Cork County Board.

Of course, it’s a similar situation in all the leading counties, no one is prepared to give any bit of early information that could give the opposition something that might be perceived to be a psychological edge.

Anyway, the show rolls into town on Sunday at 4pm and league form or not, Limerick will arrive with the favourites tag firmly placed around them.

DOMINANT

After all, they are going for four-in-a-row in Munster and three-in-a-row of All-Ireland titles. Their squad might not be as deep as it used to be a few years ago but they are still the team to be knocked off their lofty perch.

Cork are handed the first opportunity to do so on Sunday and to make things that bit more difficult for the Shannonsiders to emerge from Munster.

And where Cork are concerned as well, they must try to make full use of their home advantage because of the fact that their next three outings are away from Leeside.

Most pundits will speak of the need to win your home games in this Munster championship given that there is not a whole pile dividing any of the five teams.

For Cork to win on Sunday the margin for error will have to be minimal and the line-up of the team equally important.

Ciarán Joyce. Picture: Ben McShane/Sportsfile
Ciarán Joyce. Picture: Ben McShane/Sportsfile

The learnings from the All-Ireland final of last season will have had to be taken on board with so much emphasis going to have to be on the key pivotal positions of full-back and centre-back and who will man those berths.

Team captain, Mark Coleman, quite rightly, will be an automatic starter but could he be moved from the number six slot to a more outfield position, maybe at centre-field.

Ciaran Joyce has been outstanding throughout the league and is probably the most natural centre-back in the squad, knows what’s required there and has more than illustrated that with the Cork U20s and with his club.

Much of the team selection may well be based on the happenings on the training ground in the past fortnight and any A against a B team that might have taken place.

Shane Barrett has done enough to merit selection up front and the most likely starting six in that sector are Robbie O’Flynn, Barrett, Conor Lehane, Patrick Horgan, Seamie Harnedy and Shane Kingston with Jack O’Connor and Conor Cahalane in the mix as well when the team is finalised.

Limerick will come down with all guns blazing to unsettle Cork from the outset with some early scores.

Cork must be in this game at half-time, and get a rousing reception going in at the interval that will provide the inspiration for the second half.

All will not be lost with a loss on Sunday but things will become much more awkward thereafter, all the more so with no more advantage of playing at home and facing Tipp in Thurles and Waterford in Walsh Park Cork went to the Gaelic Grounds in 2019 when Limerick were the defending All-Ireland champions and came away with a fine win.

Can that victory be replicated?

Of course, it can but team selection, playing strategy and most other things need to be spot on. However, it’s hard to oppose Limerick and Waterford too in Walsh Park against Tipperary.

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