Cork hurlers' path to Croker is now clear: Antrim and Galway stand in their way

Kieran Kingston's side must defeat Antrim on the road and then the Tribe in the All-Ireland quarter-final to return to the last four
Cork hurlers' path to Croker is now clear: Antrim and Galway stand in their way

Kerry's Eric Leen and James McNaughton of Antrim in action in the Joe McDonagh Cup final. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

CORK will have to beat Antrim and Galway to return to the All-Ireland semi-finals.

The hurlers were keen observers of Saturday's action at Croke Park, where Antrim defeated Kerry in an epic McDonagh Cup final, on a wild scoreline of 5-22 to 4-24, and Kilkenny wore down Galway, 0-22 in 0-17, in a dogfight of a Leinster decider.

For Kilkenny, who twice lost in the provincial round-robin to Galway and Wexford, it was a typically gritty showing and secured their third Leinster in succession. Brian Cody's charges were beaten in the last two All-Ireland semi-finals, by Waterford and Cork, and have the month now to prepare for whoever emerges from the games across the coming weekends. 

Kilkenny's Tommy Walsh and Brian Concannon of Galway battle for possession. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Kilkenny's Tommy Walsh and Brian Concannon of Galway battle for possession. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

The Cats don't concern Kieran Kingston's squad for now. Antrim will host the Rebels next weekend, on Saturday or Sunday, depending on how the fixtures are mapped out with the Cork footballers also in action on July 11 or 12, against one of the provincial runners-up, Kildare, Donegal, Roscommon or Donegal. 

Antrim and Kerry was a Croker classic, the Kingdom rallying from 3-14 to 1-10 behind at half-time and coming agonisingly close to snatching a draw, with a few refereeing decisions going against them in the closing stages. Former Tipp hurler Darren Gleeson is at the helm of Antrim and they had series firepower, Conal Cunning leading the way with 1-12, 1-3 from play, Ciaran Clarke adding 2-2 and James McNaughton 1-1, while Sean Elliott also hit the net and Keelan Molloy and veteran Neil McManus hit two points apiece. 

It was Antrim's second McDonagh Cup in three seasons and whatever happens against Cork next weekend, they'll replace Laois in the Leinster championship in 2023. 

Cork are raging favourites in the preliminary quarter-final but won't take anything for granted, given Dublin were knocked out by Laois at the same stage three years ago.

Galway weren't especially impressive in their loss to Kilkenny, where the Brian Cody-Henry Shefflin post-match handshake was the big talking point, just like the previous meeting in Salthill. 

Conor Whelan of Galway in action against Huw Lawlor of Kilkenny at Croke Park. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Conor Whelan of Galway in action against Huw Lawlor of Kilkenny at Croke Park. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Conor Whelan rifled over some outrageous points and Pádraic Mannion was a beast at wing-back but Kilkenny's ferocious work-rate and tenacious defending, especially from Man of the Match Mikey Butler and Paddy Deegan, was decisive.

KEY DATES FOR CORK FANS: 

June 11/12: All-Ireland preliminary quarter-finals: Antrim v Cork; Kerry v Wexford (McDonagh Cup finalists at home).

June 18/19: All-Ireland quarter-finals: Galway v Cork/Antrim; Clare v Wexford/Kerry.

July 2: All-Ireland semi-final: Kilkenny v qualifier (can't face Galway).

July 3: All-Ireland semi-final: Limerick v qualifier (can't face Clare).

July 17: All-Ireland final.

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