John Horgan on hurling: Club league games would get returning players back up to speed

Marquee Cork hurlers like Tim O'Mahony, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Robbie O'Flynn need matches before Rebels host Waterford
John Horgan on hurling: Club league games would get returning players back up to speed

Cork’s Patrick Horgan with a fan after the game. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

THE Tuesday night and Thursday night training sessions will take on an added significance now for the Cork hurlers going forward.

In fact, the starting 15 for the Munster Championship opener may well be decided upon on what transpires on those particular nights.

After last Sunday's loss to Kilkenny in the league semi-final, Pat Ryan and his management team will not see their players in competitive action until the last Sunday of next month when Davy Fitzgerald arrives in town with the men from the Déise.

Cork may arrange a challenge game or two in the interim period but those types of games tend to lack the intensity of a competitive encounter and it's very likely that it will be make-your-mind-up time for the selectors on certain players and how they perform in the behind closed doors training sessions.

After a winning sequence of seven games, three in the Munster League and four more in the National League, Cork were perhaps being talked up a bit too much by some people regarding their championship chances. Expectation levels may have got a bit too much but those will be dampened to some extent now after the loss in Nowlan Park.

And that's no bad thing either, it might help to ease the pressure of being looked upon as a major championship contender.

That's not saying they won't be when the time comes but it's important too that feet are kept on the ground. Cork had done most things right prior to last Sunday and the credit they had been receiving had been deserved.

Kilkenny’s Timmy Clifford and Rob Downey of Cork do battle at Nowlan Park. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Kilkenny’s Timmy Clifford and Rob Downey of Cork do battle at Nowlan Park. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

However, they were second best to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park last Sunday, the Cats fully deserved their victory and a place against Limerick in the league final and Cork could really have no great complaints. Cork were chasing the game from the off, the home team managing to keep them at arm's length throughout and the brace of green flags that Derek Lyng's team raised proved crucial and decisive.

Cork, on the other hand, didn't trouble Eoin Murphy to any great extent and there wasn't enough of a penetrative dimension in the Cork attack as a whole. Shane Kingston posted eight points from the placed ball while Shane Barrett, Padraig Power and Conor Cahalane split the posts with some decent points.

Of course, it must be noted that 1-12 of Kilkenny's tally arrived off the stick of Billy Drennan, a goal from a penalty, eight frees and four 65s. His striking all through was exceptional and as someone pointed out afterward, who needs TJ Reid when you have Drennan?

But, of course, when the much bigger questions are posed, the Ballyhale maestro will again become a key figure on this Kilkenny team.


Cork once again lined out without nailed-on championship starters if they are fit, Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Tim O'Mahony and Patrick Horgan, probably Alan Connolly as well as Seamie Harnedy and Deccie Dalton.

Game time was, however, got into Horgan and O'Mahony and Ger Millerick too and that has to be viewed as a positive.

With almost five weeks still to go before the championship off it will be imperative that, if they can prove their fitness, they get in some much-needed game time. And that means lining out for their clubs in one or two league outings.

A few players, namely Coleman, Fitzgibbon and Connolly will enter the championship if they get the green light without having played a competitive game since the defeat by Galway in last season's All-Ireland quarter-final. That must be of some concern to the management.

To be fair to Cork last Sunday, they battled away to the finish despite their numerical disadvantage after the red card dismissal of Eoin Downey.

Cork will almost certainly appeal that decision and it will be very important that it will have a successful outcome because if it wasn't the Glen player would be marked absent for the championship collision with Waterford at the end of next month and that would be a big concern and would limit your defensive options.

In mentioning the Cork players who didn't feature during the league it must be noted too that Kilkenny were without TJ and Richie Reid, Adrian Mullen and Eoin Cody. And it goes without saying that quartet will be key to their championship chances which begin against Westmeath.

Although to be fair to the Lake County, they performed admirably in some league encounters and did very well to retain their top-flight status after getting the better of Laois in last Saturday's relegation playoff.

Back to Cork. 

The management will be happy enough with how the league campaign went, just the one defeat last Sunday. There were some fine victories achieved on the journey, particularly against Limerick and Galway. Forcing an admirable draw in Cusack Park in Ennis might be of some benefit when the sides collide again in the far more important championship encounter, one that could have a huge bearing on their chances of getting out of Munster.

The management had a good, hard look at a lot of players that were afforded the opportunity of stating their case.

Some did much better than others and will continue to be looked at in the A versus B games that will feature a vital part of their championship preparations.

We all know the emphasis that was put on those types of sessions in Nowlan Park in the glory days of Brian Cody's reign in Kilkenny.

And they may now become equally important for Pat Ryan over the coming weeks. The Cork boss acknowledged afterwards that whilst he was disappointed with the outcome in Kilkenny, he was pleased again with the attitude of the players and their battling qualities after the dismissal when the game was going away from them.

Losing a league semi-final is never the end of the world but, overall, Cork will have to raise the bar significantly going forward.

There's work to be done and that brings the training ground into the equation all the more over the next couple of weeks.

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