John Horgan on hurling: Pat Ryan's biggest task will be getting consistent displays from a talented Cork group

Rebels returned to pre-season last weekend with a new bainisteoir 
John Horgan on hurling: Pat Ryan's biggest task will be getting consistent displays from a talented Cork group

New Cork manager Pat Ryan battling Peter Queally of Waterford in the 1998 league final. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

A hat-trick of All-Ireland victories, four in five years and it might well have been five in five if they were not denied a legitimate 65 against Kilkenny in the dying embers of regulation time in the 2019 semi-final.

Limerick’s consistency over the past five years has been quite staggering, something that the chasing pack have not come near to matching.

Another major factor in their victory march has been their ability to always find a way, i.e. not playing at the top end of their game but still managing to come out on the right side of the result.

No team rarely dominates for the entirety of the 70 minutes, there will be a period or periods in a game when the opposition gets a foothold but are unable to capitalise fully in order to secure the victory.

This Limerick team has found itself in that type of situation a couple of times over the past number of years but somehow they are able to reinvent themselves to close out the game.

Those traits, consistency and digging deeper have been two of their biggest attributes and with the 2023 championship season still a good bit in the distance, it is no surprise that they are the hottest of fancies to make it four-in-a-row next July.

So, the €64,000 question is, can they be stopped in their tracks in that quest?

Former Cork boss, Kieran Kingston was always at pains to stress the importance of being consistent from game to game and within a game itself. And it was a similar story with Galway boss, Henry Shefflin last week when he addressed that similar issue.

“As I reflect on the year 2022, I think we did okay. We showed flashes in some games that was very good, but probably didn’t put consistent performances. If you look at our performance in the All-Ireland semi-final, we started well, did well for a while but finished poor.

“I think to be at that level you have to be constantly playing well. I think Limerick were not at their best that day against us but they still found a way."

I am sure every other team boss in the country would concur with those remarks, getting that type of consistency and being able to grind out the win even you are not at your best.

I am sure new Cork boss Pat Ryan will be striving to get level of consistency into his players when the new season begins and being able to stay in the game when your performance dips at times.

Over the past number of seasons that has been one of Cork’s big failings, no real consistency from one game to the next, either starting poorly or finishing poorly.

It’s easier said than done, of course, to find that type of consistency but if Limerick can continuously find it, why aren’t the others not able to replicate it?

With only a short span of time now between the end of the league and the commencement of the championship, team managers will be striving to get the balance right.

That will mean not peaking too soon as Waterford seemed to do last season in the secondary competition and subsequently being all too flat when the big questions were posed in Munster.

Cork looked to be in a similar situation when they lost their opening two games in Munster before putting in their best performance of the season when they travelled down to Walsh Park and came away with the win, something that was not envisaged beforehand.

Cork’s performance against Clare in Thurles last season was a prime example of their inconsistency within a game.

Ciarán Joyce of Cork passes to Mark Coleman under pressure from Clare's Tony Kelly, Peter Duggan and Ian Galvin last May. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Ciarán Joyce of Cork passes to Mark Coleman under pressure from Clare's Tony Kelly, Peter Duggan and Ian Galvin last May. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

They led by 0-2 to 0-1 after a couple of minutes but were then outscored by 0-11 to 0-1 in the subsequent 20 minutes.

They were bewilderingly poor in that period and whilst things got much better in the second half that 20 minutes proved to be the main reason why they came up short in the end.

That was another lesson learned, a good start might sometimes be half the battle but a bad one as was the case on that occasion can be your undoing.

Again, new boss Ryan will be stressing the importance of a positive start as against chasing a game far too early.

CLEAN SLATE

Of course, every county will be starting the new season with a clean slate. There will be renewed optimism out there, all the more so in the counties that have new management teams, Cork, Tipperary, Waterford, Kilkenny and Dublin in particular.

That’s quite a big number to be getting the show on the road with brand-new management teams, probably the highest it’s been for some time.

As we stated in a previous column, the approach to the national league will be very interesting.

Last season, Limerick put very few eggs into the league basket, playing five games, winning just one against Offaly, drawing one and losing three but that mattered little in July when the McCarthy Cup returned to Shannonside.

One of those league losses was against Cork when Cork had nine points to spare at the end but it was a different story entirely in the Munster championship when Limerick won very convincingly.

Yes, the league and championship are poles apart and putting any great emphasis into a result in February or March can leave you with egg on your face later in the season.

However, as stated, with so many new management teams going into battle it will be of more interest than usual what their strategy will be.

Some might want their teams to hit the ground running with a couple victories while others might be content just to get some positivity into their performances that will be of significant benefit when the championship curtain goes up.

One way or the other it should make for plenty of debate when it all gets underway.

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