John Horgan: Road to Croke Park is opening up now for the Cork hurlers

After two wins in a row Kieran Kingston's side will move into June with real confidence they can contend for glory
John Horgan: Road to Croke Park is opening up now for the Cork hurlers

Cork’s Robbie O’Flynn with Patrick Maher of Tipperary. Picture: INPHO/Evan Treacy

WHEN the schedule of matches for the Munster championship was released, the general consensus was Cork would need to win one of their games with Limerick and Clare.

That perception was very much based on the fact that if those games did not yield anything the chances of Cork making it through to the All-Ireland series was lessened considerably, having to play Waterford and Tipperary away.

Well, Cork did lose those two opening games, the second one, of course, being played in Thurles because of the unavailability of Pairc Ui Chaoimh. The mood darkened greatly on Leeside.

Cork were now sailing in very choppy waters and something extra special was required from Kieran Kingston’s men.

And that’s exactly how things have transpired, Cork entered the bearpit of Walsh Park and secured a quite magnificent victory over the team that had all but ripped them apart in the league final. That and Tipperary’s failure to win any of their opening three games meant that Cork’s destiny was entirely in their own hands.

They answered the call in a similar fashion against their old foes back in Thurles last Sunday and in doing so put themselves firmly back in the equation in the race for the MacCarthy Cup.

Basically, what they did in Walsh Park and last Sunday was to issue a statement of real intent that Cork hurling has been rejuvenated. Nobody is saying Cork are going to win the All-Ireland, nothing like that but from here on the potential is now there for them to be a force.

Shane Barrett of Cork takes on Conor Stakelum of Tipperary. Picture: George Tewkesbury/Sportsfile
Shane Barrett of Cork takes on Conor Stakelum of Tipperary. Picture: George Tewkesbury/Sportsfile

The big poser in the aftermath of the win over Waterford was, could that display be replicated again against Tipperary. The answer, of course, was an emphatic yes.

Things did not start well last Sunday, trailing by 1-3 to 0-0 after just five minutes. They'd have gotten a lot worse if Noel McGrath had converted a Tipp penalty before Alan Connolly came up with the goods again when he superbly executed his fourth goal of the campaign.

This fellow’s confidence is sky high now and he is going to be a key player. He comes from great Rockies hurling stock and it’s showing more and more.

The story of the first half was all about Conor Lehane and his majesty in teasing and tormenting the Tipp defence. The Midleton man had his best day in a red jersey for five years. He was simply sensational.

The movement and execution of scores by the Cork attack was something that Tipperary could not cope with and Colm Bonner has a gargantuan job on his hands.

Cork’s work-rate, tackling and all the other things that are key elements to the game of hurling, hooking, blocking, and just getting stuck in was a joy to behold. Over the past two games their swarm tactics, a vital part of Limerick’s play, reminded us hurling is not rocket science. It’s a simple game where the basics are so necessary. 

There is a far greater balance to the team now than there had been against Limerick and Clare. Luke Meade has justified his recall at midfield, the positional placings of young Joyce and Mark Coleman in the half-back sector is paying a richer dividend.

Sean O'Donoghue gets the better of Jake Morris at Semple Stadium on Sunday. Picture: George Tewkesbury/Sportsfile
Sean O'Donoghue gets the better of Jake Morris at Semple Stadium on Sunday. Picture: George Tewkesbury/Sportsfile

Sean O’Donoghue’s consistency from game to game is a telling feature of the team while the return from the attack as a unit is far better than it used to be. Robbie O’Flynn’s pace alongside Shane Kingston was effective on Sunday, and with Seamie Harnedy, they'd 0-10 from the half-forward line.

The depth in the squad is greater too with the introduction of Tim O’Mahony again adding extra fuel to the attack and his goal lit up the old stadium. The competition for places is intensifying as well and three goals in any game in Munster is a damn good haul. 

Players seem more tuned in and, of course, this all comes back to greater work-rate.

Tipperary, apart from their early blitz, were desperately poor but Cork went to Thurles fully aware of what was needed from them and they did the job. Credit has to be given where it’s due, first and foremost to the players and thereafter the management for some of the calls they made.

After the defeat by Clare, this Cork squad was staring into the abyss but the transformation since has injected everybody with a far more optimistic outlook. The only mission at the season’s outset was to be one of the three teams to emerge from the province. Nothing else mattered and that mission has now been accomplished.

Who knows what the future now holds.

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