BEING forewarned is to be forearmed.
That’s the message that the Cork hurling management will be delivering to their players this week as they prepare for Sunday’s Munster Championship joust with Clare at Semple Stadium.
Clare, a bit of an unknown quantity before they took Tipperary apart last Sunday, will be hugely energised on the back of that victory and their belief levels will have risen accordingly, adding a further layer of pressure on a Cork team that, in stark contrast, are already under huge pressure after their opening night trouncing by Limerick.
Nobody really knew what to expect from Clare going in against the Premier. Their league form was very patchy and they were significantly off the pace when Cork easily overcame them in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the league a few months back.
The Banner folded their tent very early in that game but that’s an irrelevance now after the manner with which they put Tipp to the sword, who had given a fine account of themselves in their opener against Waterford in Walsh Park.
But, as we all know, league and championship hurling are poles apart and Clare illustrated that with their emphatic display against Tipp, who now find themselves in a very precarious position.
In fact, they may require a bit of a miracle to get out of Munster, defeating the two best teams in the country in Limerick and Waterford.
Clare had to stand idly by while the other four counties slugged it out on the first weekend of the campaign but it mattered little. If anything, on the evidence that they presented in Thurles, it did them the world of good, an opportunity to sit back and examine the credentials of the four opponents that they would be facing in the six weeks that were to follow.
Tipp, after their encouraging start against Waterford, were most pundits fancy to secure their first win in this minefield of a Munster championship but by half-time, they were all but a spent force against the Banner men who simply tore them asunder in the opening 35 minutes.
We have seen mighty comebacks in the hurling arena in recent times and when Tipp drilled home a goal shortly after the teams had resumed for the second half we might have thought that another was on the cards.
Tipp reduced a half-time deficit of 13 points down to seven at one stage in the closing 35 minutes but Clare had the ability to rally and to see out the game very comfortably.
Yes, Clare were very good in Thurles last Sunday and whilst Tony Kelly ended the game with a return of 1-7 one had reason to believe that he can be a much greater force going forward.
The old adage of goals winning games was tellingly illustrated again and Clare’s hat-trick of first-half green flags defined the eventual outcome of this contest.
Clare had their homework done on Tipp and in most departments they were superior and by the time the last whistle sounded they had 10 different scorers with the returning Peter Duggan making a significant impact.
Shane O’Donnell was back too and both will have benefited considerably from this experience, making them perhaps more of a threat next Sunday against Cork.
They did not panic when Tipp threatened a revival in the second-half and an overall return of 3-21 was damn good, scoring on their first day in the championship office.
Whilst they had obviously done their homework on Tipp, now it’s Cork’s turn to try and do something similar to them, take the learnings and put them to the test next Sunday in a game that is now almost certainly make or break for them.
Of course, history has shown us that in any group format things can change weekly and there are never guarantees going forward.
But, at the same time, it does not require one to be a rocket scientist to say that Cork must be immensely better than they were against Limerick in almost every aspect of their play.
John Conlon’s vast experience was a feature of Clare’s win, Ryan Taylor and Ian Galvin impressed too and the Banner County will believe that they should have beaten Cork in last season’s championship, being denied right at the death by a wonder save by Patrick Collins from Tony Kelly.
Cork simply must be better on Sunday and they must get something from this game, otherwise themselves and Tipp will be rooted to the bottom of the pile and facing a premature end to the hurling season.
If that came to pass and hopefully, from a Cork viewpoint, it won’t, it would be an illustration of how things have changed in Munster hurling.
Of course, the fact that Clare have gone into Thurles and beaten the host county so comprehensively will energise them all the more.
But it’s a far different kettle of fish when you lose twice. That has already happened to a Tipp team that could not build on the positives that they exhibited against Waterford.
Cork must now hope that won’t happen to them and that they don’t join them at the bottom rung of the ladder.
Clare have issued a strong warning, Cork must now take heed of it and try to ensure that their best performance of the season will be forthcoming.
Simply put, Cork and Clare next Sunday is a massive game for Rebel hurling, one with hardly any margin for error from the team in red.