John Horgan ranks the All-Ireland contenders: Cork still behind Limerick, Galway and Clare

Waterford face a period of reflection after failing utterly to build on their promising league victory
John Horgan ranks the All-Ireland contenders: Cork still behind Limerick, Galway and Clare

Tim O'Mahony and Darragh Fitzgibbon celebrate after Cork's third goal last weekend. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

THE dramatic closing minutes of the last day of the English Premiership were not replicated in the Munster SHC and the battle to be the third team to join Limerick and Clare in the All-Ireland series was all sorted long before the last whistle.

Cork made sure of that in Thurles and Clare did likewise in Cusack Park against Waterford which meant, of course, that Waterford’s early season form and subsequent national league title victory is very much inconsequential now.

The Cork starting 15 before the win over Tipp. Picture: George Tewkesbury/Sportsfile
The Cork starting 15 before the win over Tipp. Picture: George Tewkesbury/Sportsfile

In fact, that league title looks rather meaningless as do all league wins down the years if you fail to build on them in the championship.

DISASTER

Waterford’s failure to emerge from the province is nothing short of a disaster for them and it’s certain to lead to a lot of soul-searching on Suirside but then again they will have plenty of time to do that over the next seven or eight months.

The team looked upon as Limerick’s closest challengers at the season’s outset have failed dismally in their quest and against Clare last Sunday, a much-changed Clare team, they were devoid of so much that is needed in a championship arena. For the most part, they were chasing the game and it had effectively run its course at half-time with Clare 13 points to the good.

It all begs the question, is the league now of any great relevance at all.

Of course, teams need to be competing at some level in the pre-championship season but putting too many eggs into one basket so early can work against you subsequently.

Peaking too early can come back to bite you and Waterford, obviously, went all out to win the league and their form in that competition had most people sitting up and taking notice.

They appeared to have the depth in their squad that others might not have possessed and that was indicated when players like Jamie Barron, Pauric Mahony, and others were not starters.

But, at the end of the day, the league is only the league and with the intimidating group format of the Munster SHC following on so quickly, you have to be able to manage yourselves very carefully.

They did manage to see off Tipperary in their opening game, a very substandard Tipp team as it turned out, especially against Cork last Sunday but it all went downhill from there, especially in their final two games.

They were flying on a wing and a prayer heading to Cusack Park last Sunday, aware that Cork needed to make a right mess of it in Thurles which, of course, they didn’t do.

It’s now going to be a time for very lengthy reflection in Waterford hurling circles.

CRACKER

The only saving grace as far as a real match was concerned was the Wexford-Kilkenny encounter at Nowlan Park last Saturday night. This was a cracker with Wexford, after making a right hames of it the previous week in only drawing with Westmeath, producing one of their best displays for a long time.

They fought like tigers to tame Kilkenny and deserved to win with Lee Chin leading by example when it really mattered. Now, similar to Cork, their Summer is alive and kicking again and only God knows what a victory like that will do for them.

They love their hurling in Wexford, more so than in other counties and the great stars of so many battles from the past, the Quigleys, Tony Doran, Mick Jacob, and the boys of 1996 must have been very proud of them in their recovery.

Hurling needs a vibrant Wexford team and that vibrancy was very evident last Saturday night.

Kilkenny have now lost twice in the championship, could end up losing again if they fall short against Galway in the Leinster final and still end up winning the All-Ireland as they would still be in the quarter-final.

Surely, there have to be flaws in that type of system but that’s the way it is.

So, what is the pecking order of All-Ireland contenders now looking like at the conclusion of the provincial series.

Limerick still seem to have more tools at their disposal than the chasing pack. The carrot of three-in-a-row is massive and their depth in resources — if everybody is fit — makes them the number one choice.

Clare have been the team of the Munster championship, seven points from eight and have to be realistic challengers to Limerick’s crown.

Of course, the Munster final between the counties will tell us a lot more.

You never write off Kilkenny while Galway are looking a lot more balanced and settled under Henry Shefflin.

And Cork are right back in the mix now, still maybe a bit off being title contenders but their recent wins against Waterford and Tipperary will have blown their confidence levels very high.

There’s greater competition for places, the balance throughout the field is far better too and the scoring spread across the attack has been a feature of their newfound prowess.

The ball is being hit in much earlier and far more often too and against Waterford and Tipp it has been the complete opposite to the earlier assignments. The portents look much better and there is far more room now for cautious optimism.

They still need to be more tuned in at the start because conceding 1-3 so early on as they did against Tipp and subsequently conceding a penalty, which Tipp did not capitalise on, could be detrimental against a far better team.

Limerick remain in pole position to claim the old canister again but from this observer’s viewpoint, there’s not a whole pile separating the chasing pack. 

Cork are where they set out to be, emerging from the province and that’s all that could be asked of them facing into the rigours of an All-Ireland campaign.

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