Cork v Clare: John Horgan is enjoying the good vibes on Leeside after a promising league start

League semi-final berth is already assured ahead of trip to Ennis on Sunday
Cork v Clare: John Horgan is enjoying the good vibes on Leeside after a promising league start

Cork’s Eoin Downey in action against Wexford’s Rory Higgins at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

A LOT has been said and written about the National Hurling League over the past few weeks, some dismissing it to the point that it’s a worthless exercise; just filling in time before the real business of the season gets underway, that being the group stages of the provinial championships.

Dismissing it as lightly as that is wide of the mark and while the hurling year is all about how you fare in the championship, the league can have its own positives.

Young players with potential are exposed to inter-county hurling for the first time, management teams take a good, hard look at them and make up their minds on whether or not they have what it takes further down the line.

The league can be a significant confidence builder for players and their attitude is monitored very closely by those on the sideline.

Attitude and character are vital attributes in a player’s development, standing up to be counted in the face of adversity and not downing tools when the tide might be going against you.

Cork boss, Pat Ryan will have been delighted thus far with those two traits, finding a way to win when things were not looking too well.

On several occasions, in the Munster League and National League, the players on duty stayed the course and came away with the victory.

Things may well be a whole pile different in the championship; not starting well in a game and falling behind significantly on the scoreboard could be detrimental in the final analysis.

Cork’s Shane Kingston scores a point. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Cork’s Shane Kingston scores a point. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Last season’s game against Clare in Thurles was an example of that; an opening half that was best forgotten before reinventing themselves in the second.

In the end Cork came up short because the hill that they had created for themselves just became too steep to climb.

Nobody knows how things will transpire in the months ahead, but in the attitude and character stakes, the Cork management can have no complaints.


On another day, Wexford might have won last Sunday, but as they had done in previous games, Cork, without ever reaching any great heights, found a way to get the result that will do the younger players the world of good.

If you look at the Premier League, Arsenal have been the team of the season, securing victories with late, late goals; something that was the hallmark of the great Manchester United teams under Alex Ferguson.

Those United teams also dug out 1-0 wins when their overall performance left a lot to be desired; a few times this season, Arsenal have done the same.

The Cork hurling management are obviously doing something similar, instilling into the players that you stay focused, believe in themselves and being there or thereabouts right up to the last whistle. Those traits can take you a long way.

Some games in the current league have been fairly milk and watery, no great bite to them and far too one-sided at times.

Definitely, one of the most enjoyable games that this observer has witnessed was the Tipperary-Waterford encounter in Thurles last Saturday night.

At times, it was as near to championship hurling as you will get in the league; it was feisty at times, it contained a strong cutting edge, and a number of players certainly made their presence felt.

It’s still very early days in the season, but Tipperary, under Liam Cahill, appear to be on their way to becoming a formidable force again. Of course, one might say that has been easy enough given how exceptionally poor they were last season. But credit where it’s due, they have been very impressive at times and Cahill seems to be getting a lot more out of some players and getting a better blend.

They have had some fine victories thus far, away in Nowlan Park against Kilkenny and in Croke Park against Dublin.

In the second half against Waterford, they excelled, Jake Morris expertly drilling home a hat-trick of goals and Jason Forde coming in to fire over a half dozen superb points.

There appears to be a greater depth to the squad too and that’s what every team management is about, creating a squad where players who might not start can be relied upon to make an impact.

Hasn’t that been a huge factor in the Lmerick success story?

Cork and Tipp are now safely berthed in the league semi-final, meaning that they can experiment as much as they want in the weekend games, against Clare and Wexford respectively.

Pat Ryan will want to get some game time into his injured players in Cusack Park provided the medical report allows that.

Seamie Harnedy came in last Sunday against Wexford and Ryan got a good 25 minutes out of him.

Of course, the big question is, will Ryan and Cahill go all out for the league title or will they be satisfied to have got what they wanted from it at this stage? Cahill was in a similar position with Waterford last season, having a great league innings, collecting the trophy but not being able to transfer that form on to the championship stage.

Cork have the benefit of extra time over the other counties before they start their championship campaign and that might be a factor.

It’s very much about getting the balance right, not peaking too early as Waterford seemed to do last season.

In the past, winning the league was the foundation for a successful championship and the great Kilkenny four-in-a-row team of 2006 to 2009 was well able to combine the two competitions successfully.

On Sunday evening we will know the semi-final pairings and it’s highly likely that Munster teams will dominate the quartet. You could even have all four from the province and that could have can have its own implications.

We’ll have to wait and see.

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