John Horgan on hurling: Cork's squad depth could be the difference against Clare

Without Robbie O'Flynn, Mark Coleman and Alan Connolly for the trip to Ennis, Pat Ryan needs his leaders to step up on Sunday
John Horgan on hurling: Cork's squad depth could be the difference against Clare

Cork's Damien Cahalane shakes hands with John McGrath of Tipperary after the last game ended in a draw. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady

AND then there were four with that quartet being reduced to three over the next two Sundays.

Waterford's capitulation at the hands of Clare ended their interest in this season's Munster SHC and the burning question to be answered now is, who will join them on the outside looking in for the remainder of the campaign.

One big gun from Cork, Clare, Tipperary and Limerick will fall by the wayside when the group stage of the competition is completed on the last Sunday of the month.

What was an intriguing championship before a ball was even pucked has become increasingly more so now and nobody can predict with any degree of certainty what is going to transpire in the four games that remain, Clare and Cork and Tipperary and Limerick on Sunday followed by Limerick and Cork and Tipperary and Waterford a week later.

Clare will not be in action on the final day but by then they will hope to have secured their place in the Munster final.

That will be the case if they defeat Cork on Sunday in Cusack Park but that's a lot easier said than done.

It could be suggested that all the four counties vying for the three positions, while very much in the hunt, they are at the same time in jeopardy of not having their hurling season extended.


Limerick's loss to Clare and the draw between Cork and Tipperary you could say has really thrown the cat among the pigeons as regards the qualification battle.

Thurles was only a third full for Clare and Waterford last Saturday night but it's a near certainty that it will be a near-capacity attendance on Sunday for the collision of Tipperary and Limerick.

A similar situation will apply at the Ennis venue for Clare and Cork and on this occasion there won't be any wrangling about the TV rights with both games live on RTÉ 2.

The stakes could not be higher on Sunday at both venues and whilst it was unthinkable at the outset of the campaign it is no certainty now that Limerick will be one of the three teams going forward to the All-Ireland campaign.

Some pundits have been suggesting that the best team in the country over the past five years are coming back into the pack a little and might not be the force that they have been.

Their loss to Clare a few weeks back has added more fuel to that theory but as they have illustrated on a number of occasions, when the chips are really down they always find a way.

That has been one of their great strengths alongside the depth of their squad and those traits have got them out of one or two tight corners in recent seasons.

At around position half-five on Sunday we'll all be that bit more knowledgeable regarding their prospects in both the provincial and All-Ireland campaigns.

Tipperary are probably in a slightly more advantageous than the others because of the fact they are on home turf for their final two games and win or lose on Sunday they will still be in a strong position to come through because they will be facing a Waterford team a week later with absolutely nothing to play for.

Davy Fitzgerald insists that Waterford won't lie down in that game and they might not but it's very difficult to envisage anything that day other than a Tipperary victory which would put them on five points.

At this stage last season, Tipp had lost their three previous games and whilst many believed that the sight of a Cork jersey in their final game might energise them, that was not the case and Cork easily secured their qualification spot.

Being involved in a game when there's nothing to play for makes things very difficult for the players on that team.

The Munster campaign has been a bit of a mixed bag up to now, two absolute crackers between Clare and Limerick and Cork and Tipp, the second half of the latter and two fairly mundane games, both involving Waterford against Cork and Clare.

Of the four teams chasing the three qualification spots, all four have been very good at times, not so as well.


Clare appear to have sorted out the defensive issues that cost them against Tipperary and they were a reinvented unit a week later against Limerick.

A number of players have really stood out for them, John Conlon, particularly against Limerick and Waterford, Ryan Taylor has been excellent while we all know the capabilities of Tony Kelly when he is given the latitude to cut loose.

Aidan McCarthy wasn't really missed against Waterford but a lot of that was down to how poor Waterford were.

Patrick Horgan of Cork in action against Mark Fitzgerald of Waterford. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Patrick Horgan of Cork in action against Mark Fitzgerald of Waterford. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Tipperary were probably disappointed to lose a five-point advantage against Cork but they are a much different proposition than they were last season.

They'll have been working on their conversion rate from placed balls since Jason Forde was replaced against Cork and his absence on Sunday could be felt.

John Kiely has had three weeks now to get the Limerick show back on the road and he knows that upping the ante considerably has to be the case against Tipperary.

After all, they could have lost their opener as well to Waterford.

Cork have done most things right thus far and they have to be in a good place going to Ennis whilst at the same time realising that this challenge is likely to be as severe as it gets against a Clare team with loads of momentum now behind them.

Cork's squad is stronger than it has been for a while and the defence has coped admirably with the absence of two key players, Sean O'Donoghue and Mark Coleman.

Damien Cahalane has really put his shoulder to the pump and Niall O'Leary has been very consistent.

And a word on goalkeeper Patrick Collins, he looks to be far more confident in his duties and is giving those in front of him that confidence too.

There is still a heavy reliance on the old guard, Seamie Harnedy, Patrick Horgan, Cahalane and Conor Lehane and the blend in the side is being shown to good effect.

So really, it's fasten the seat belts for a Sunday feast of hurling at both venues.

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