A month ago, after losses to Limerick and Clare in the Munster SHC, few would have expected Cork to still be involved in the championship in June.
However, victories over Waterford and Tipperary secured third place in the table and now a preliminary quarter-final awaits against Antrim tomorrow. What changed mid-campaign? Cork manager Kieran Kingston thinks that adversity brought the best out in his team.
“I think there are a number of things,” he says.
“You have to give respect as well to the opposition that you’re playing but I think our focus, our application, our work-rate, our hunger, our pride in the jersey, playing for each other – I think the team really showed that when their backs were to the wall.
“We saw it in Walsh Park and we saw it again against Tipperary and they were the most pleasing things for me. The reaction from the playing group was immense and it’s important now that we back it up again on Saturday.”
It will be almost three weeks since Cork’s last outing, the win over Tipperary at FBD Semple Stadium – perhaps a bit longer than ideal but still welcome after a hectic schedule up to that.
“I think there’s a bit of a balance,” Kingston says.
“We had two weeks from the league final to the Limerick game and then from the Limerick game to the Clare game and again from that to the Waterford game.
“That was good, in effect really, because when you lose games like that, two weeks is a good gap to re-evaluate and get the focus back, be down for a few days and build lads back up again.
“Then, you get a bit of momentum when you get a couple of wins from week to week, like we did with the Waterford and Tipperary games and that was good, too.
“After such a strenuous Munster round-robin campaign, on top of a condensed league season, the break was good. Two weeks would probably be a nicer gap in that you could get your break and still have momentum – three weeks is a little bit longer but they’re the cards we’re dealt and we put ourselves in that position by coming third in Munster.
“We obviously gave fellas a bit of a break after the Tipp game for a while – not too long but a few days off, of course. The campaign was mentally and physically exhausting on players, given that it was a topsy-turvy kind of a campaign.
“This is a championship week and it’s a championship match. It’s the third competition we play in – we got to the league final but we lost it, Munster we got out of but we didn’t get where we’d have liked to have got, which is a Munster final.
“This is the third campaign and it’s knockout championship from Saturday.”