John Horgan: Cork found out about their young hurlers, a result in Kilkenny will be a bonus

Rebels head to Nowlan Park for the league semi-final on Sunday but injuries have revealed the depth of the squad
John Horgan: Cork found out about their young hurlers, a result in Kilkenny will be a bonus

Liam Óg McGovern of Wexford is tackled by Ciarán Joyce and Eoin Roche at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

WHAT are we to make of the Cork hurlers at the conclusion of the group stage of the national league?

Apart from Limerick, a similar question might be asked about the rest of the pack that will be trying to unseat John Kiely’s team over the championship months.

The league is about getting as much as possible out of it, in particular finding fresh talent that will create more options for a management team before the real business begins. For Cork, the positives seem to be in greater supply than the negatives: Unbeaten since the start of the season, qualification for the knockout stage of the competition, and a number of players showing up well, especially those who are new to the squad.

They have had a number of fine victories, particularly against Limerick and Galway, and while other performances were not as impressive, plenty of momentum has been built up and abundant character has been in evidence.

So, to sum up the situation before the business end of the campaign begins this weekend, the best way to describe it is: So far, so good.

We’ll be wiser at the conclusion of the semi-final with Kilkenny and whether or not Cork will be going full throttle to bridge a considerable gap, since victory in the league was last achieved back in 1998.

Some counties are satisfied to make the last four of the competition and draw back a little, with the championship fast approaching. No manager will admit that. They say that they want to win every game.

At this stage, fitness permitting, a lot of management teams will have a fair idea of what their championship starting 15 will be.

John Conlon of Clare is tackled by Dáire O’Leary of Cork. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
John Conlon of Clare is tackled by Dáire O’Leary of Cork. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Outside of the four counties that will contest the two semi-finals, the rest will not have a competitive game again until the championship flag is unfurled.

Cork’s draw with Clare last Sunday was described by Anthony Daly as nothing more than a challenge match and anybody that read anything into it is only codding themselves.

Harsh words, maybe, but that has been the reality of some games in the league; quite a few in fact.

Games have lacked real intensity, and the play has been far too open, with a distinct lack of bite.

It was understandable that the affair in Cusack Park was not great, given that Cork were already berthed in the semi-final and Clare had little to play for.

Clare, in fact, have been fairly lack-lustre over their five group games and more questions than answers have been provided for Brian Lohan.

However, it was a similar situation last season, before they became a formidable force in the championship and before they came up against Kilkenny.

There is always the perception that teams are holding back something, particularly when the same two teams will be colliding again in a few short weeks in the championship.

Cork boss Pat Ryan cannot be accused of not casting the net far and wide over the past number of weeks, in his quest to embellish his squad. One certainly cannot come up with a name who should have been given game time but wasn’t.

All those called have been given a fair crack of the whip and the job of any management team is to now decide whether or not they have something to offer going forward.

Of the Cork newcomers, Padraig Power delivered another goal in Cusack Park, similar to the one that he secured against Wexford a week previously and that will have been noted by the management. Power certainly looks to be in the equation for a squad berth.

The conditions in Cusack Park last Sunday were poor, but, once again, Cork showed the attitude and character to get something out of the game, even if the stakes were not that high.

One of the big positives from the last two games has been the return to the fray of Seamie Harnedy and the form that he has shown while on the field of play.

He had 1-3 on the board before his departure last Sunday, through injury, and he was continuing the form he displayed after his introduction against Wexford.

Without a doubt, Harnedy remains an integral part of this Cork set-up.

Conor Lehane posted some fine points, too, in Ennis and while he could do with being more consistent sometimes, he, too, remains a key figure, whose vast experience will be crucial.

In the troubled full-back slot, Eoin Downey seems to be in pole position for the championship, behind the outstanding Ciaran Joyce.


There has to be a slight concern that a number of key players have not been featuring, because of injury. There have been too many, but, of course, that’s not their fault. That’s the way it is and all team bosses face that problem.

As we have stated before, Cork and Kilkenny are better positioned now to have a cut in the semi-final, because they cannot collide again until the championship much further down the line.

Cork have an extra week over the others, before the championshp begins, while the Cats should be able to take care of Westmeath in their opener.

Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

You just don’t know the mindset of management teams at this time of the year.

How much do they really want out of the league, because of the close proximity of the championship?

However, new Cork boss Pat Ryan is entitled to be upbeat without getting too carried away.

They have mostly, though not always, been very good in the campaign thus far, and have shown commitment, attitude, and character, and a refusal to yield when the tide might not be turning in your favour.

There seems to be more scope, too, in the selection stakes, but until such time as Waterford arrive for the Munster opener, we’ll have to include the word ‘caution’ in most discussions.

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