John Horgan on hurling: Fired up Cork must drive on at Semple Stadium

Rebels saved their season in Waterford, the next step is against Tipperary this weekend where a win puts them through to the last six in the All-Ireland series
John Horgan on hurling: Fired up Cork must drive on at Semple Stadium

Cork manager Kieran Kingston during the recent win over Waterford. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

THE beauty of the new structure in the Munster Hurling Championship is that there are plenty of twists and turns on the journey.

Things can change very quickly, a team that might be down in the dumps after a bad defeat can be a transformed unit a week later and suddenly everything is altered.

Cork and, to a lesser extent Tipperary, are very much back in the equation to qualify for the All-Ireland campaign, while Waterford now find themselves no longer in control of their own destiny.

That’s in Cork’s hands now; come away from Thurles with a victory over Tipperary and the hurling summer opens up for them.

Cork's Conor Cahalane and Tim O'Mahony celebrate. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Cork's Conor Cahalane and Tim O'Mahony celebrate. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

That’s easier said than done, of course, and the Premier County are not out of the equation either which only adds to the intrigue of the final day in the format.

The real beauty, of course, for Cork is that they are not looking for favours from anybody, it’s entirely up to themselves.

Being very honest, if Cork can replicate last Sunday’s exceptionally fine performance in Walsh Park, they should be good enough to make it through.

But recent history has illustrated that there are no guarantees in that regard and it’s all down to being consistently good from one week to the next.

The joy that last Sunday brought to the Cork supporters will be short lived if the task is not completed in Thurles.

The game of hurling never ceases to amaze; a team producing a very poor performance, as Cork did against Limerick and Clare, and then bouncing back with that quality display against the county perceived at the outset of the campaign to be the big threat to Limerick’s dominance.

Waterford were worthy league winners but failure to emerge from the Munster championship will be a huge setback and render that league title almost meaningless.

That is the reality of what they are facing, heading up to Cusack Park next Sunday when even a victory might not be good enough.

Cork were unrecognisable last Sunday from the team that lost so poorly to Limerick and Clare, and Waterford were unrecognisable from the team that looked so tuned in during the league.

All sporting participants are human beings at the end of the day and whether you are competing in the higher echelons of your chosen code or playing at the opposite end, criticism hurts.

And this Cork team and management too received more than their fair share of criticism in the aftermath of the two championship losses and the league final.

But there’s only so much you can take and the time comes when you just have to respond and Cork did exactly that in Walsh Park. But one swallow never made a summer and that response has to be continued in the great hurling home of Semple Stadium.

There should be no shortage of confidence now, that should be sky-high, but there must be an awareness of how things change so quickly in the aptly named Munster championship ‘minefield’.

There is no doubt that Clare have been the big story of the campaign thus far: three wins from three, safely berthed in the Munster final and at worst a place guaranteed in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Brian Lohan was one of the finest full-backs of his generation, one of the best of all time. He always got the best out of himself and now he is getting the best out of the players that he manages.

Tony Kelly of Clare is tackled by Diarmaid Byrnes of Limerick. Picture: John Sheridan/Sportsfile
Tony Kelly of Clare is tackled by Diarmaid Byrnes of Limerick. Picture: John Sheridan/Sportsfile

Their consistency in this championship has been a headline maker and whilst Limerick are still the team to beat, nothing will come easy for any of Clare’s opponents from here on in and any team with the country’s best hurler in Tony Kelly has to be taken seriously.

This Round-Robin format has added so much to the provincial hurling championships, both in Munster and in Leinster.

The twists and the turns are providing a wonderful spectacle and totally unexpected outcomes, including Westmeath potentially destroying Wexford’s ambitions with that draw last Sunday.

Back to Cork and Tipp. On the basis of last Sunday’s terrific result, Cork will be slight favourites but we must remember that in two of Tipp’s three losses, to Waterford, Clare and Limerick, they performed admirably, especially against Limerick.

They might be pointless on the table but with all seeming lost, they now find themselves with something to play for next Sunday.

The dead-rubber that many had predicted has not materialised and, in fact, the opposite is the case.

Patrick Horgan. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Patrick Horgan. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

There has been plenty to debate on Leeside over the past few days. Will Tim O’Mahony and Shane Kingston start next Sunday or be kept in reserve to make the impact that they did last Sunday?

O’Mahony certainly added a better dimension to the atack, particularly his aerial ability and Kingston’s work-rate was very impressive, tracking back in particular. It certainly gives the management more food for thought and that’s the way it should be.

The bottom line from last Sunday was very simple: Cork worked like dogs all through, they tackled with far greater intensity, they hooked and blocked in a more old-fashioned manner and gone was the looseness of past days.

You would expect a bounce from Waterford in Cusack Park plus the fact that Clare may well rest a few players in advance of the Munster final.

That would be a logical thing to do.

But the outcome up there does not matter if Cork get the job done in Thurles.

To come from where they were and have it in their own hands on the last day suggests that the journey home from the old stadium might be a more joyful one this time.

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