Cork hurlers made some big calls for Clare clash, they must hit the ground running

Éamonn Murphy on the major issues ahead of Cork's massive showdown with the Banner at Cusack Park on Sunday
Cork hurlers made some big calls for Clare clash, they must hit the ground running

Cork’s Jack O'Connor, Shane Kingston and Patrick Horgan with John Conlon and Conor Cleary of Clare. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie


Everyone knew there were changes incoming for the trip to Ennis, including Robbie O'Flynn's forward berth after he limped off against Tipp, but few would have predicted the starting 15 the selectors opted for.

Shane Kingston, perhaps due to his excellence as an impact sub, remains in reserve with Conor Lehane restored to the front six instead. 

Before the campaign Donal O'Mahony explained they'd be going with a 'horses for courses' approach, altering the line-up according to the opposition and that's certainly the case here. 

After handing Eoin Downey his debut to counter Tipperary's height in the half-forward unit, he's on the bench at Cusack Park with Seán O'Donoghue, finally free from injury, returning to captain the side.

Cork's Tommy O'Connell is tackled by Tipperary's Conor Bowe earlier this season. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork's Tommy O'Connell is tackled by Tipperary's Conor Bowe earlier this season. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Luke Meade, who probably shouldn't have been omitted against the Premier, comes in for Ger Millerick, as Tommy O'Connell switches to number five again from midfield; Conor Cahalane is a more physical replacement for Shane Barrett up front. 

It'll be interesting to see if the alterations, no doubt influenced by last weekend's A versus B in-house action, pay off. Going for the O'Connell-Brian Roche midfield combo in the Tipp didn't work as Alan Tynan's power overwhelmed Cork in that sector.

Dogs of war will be needed on Sunday and a performance on a par with last summer's showing in Walsh Park at the same stage.


It's been a decent season for Cork in terms of results, the only competitive defeat came in the league semi-final at Kilkenny.

Looking at the bigger picture, a host of young players have been blooded. O’Connell, Eoin Downey and Roche have all started, Pádraig Power came on against Waterford and sub Brian Hayes pounced for the goal that ultimately secured the draw with Tipp.

Yet if the Rebels can’t get a result in Ennis or at the Gaelic Grounds, the season will be over at the end of May with a long gap before the club championships throw in later in the summer. 

It’s the harsh reality of the provincial bear pit though.

Pat Ryan at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady
Pat Ryan at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady

Ryan has a three-year term and regardless of what happens will have the full support of the Leeside faithful. Despite reaching an All-Ireland final in 2021, Cork haven’t been consistent enough or shown the defensive security to lift the big prizes. The fans understand they’re a work in progress under Ryan.

But that doesn’t ease the pressure.


For the veterans in their 30s, Patrick Horgan, Seamus Harnedy, Conor Lehane and Damien Cahalane, this could be the final time they take on Clare. 

It’s a decade now since the Banner defeated Cork in the All-Ireland final replay and though Cork have won the majority of the rematches since, including two Munster finals and knockout ties in 2015 and '21, it hasn’t made up for the pain of that loss.

In terms of pure hurlers, Cork aren’t lacking options but the clash will hinge on work-rate, controlled aggression, composure and drive. 

Clare showed all of those characteristics when they stunned Limerick last month and in Tony Kelly will also have the best player on the pitch.

Ryan will have a more obvious man-marker tagged for Kelly than Waterford’s Darragh Lyons but TK produces moments of magic that no defender can legislate for. Niall O'Leary is set for that onerous task with Ger Millerick not starting but getting the right match-ups for Shane O’Donnell, David Fitzgerald, John Conlon, Ryan Taylor and Aidan McCarthy, if he’s fit, is also critical.

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