John Horgan on hurling: Cork have to keep the faith even when the odds are against them

Limerick are expected to beat the Rebels on Sunday but Pat Ryan's side have shown heart and belief all season
John Horgan on hurling: Cork have to keep the faith even when the odds are against them

Cork’s Declan Dalton with Peter Duggan of Clare. Picture: INPHO/Evan Treacy

WHEN Clare lost their opening Munster hurling championship encounter to Tipperary on their home turf of Cusack Park, conceding five goals in the process, very few might have envisaged them ending up as the only team to be safely berthed in the provincial final before the final games in the group stage.

The scheduling of games in that group stage, the Banner not involved on the final day meant that everything was out of their hands no matter how they went about their business in the three subsequent games after that loss to Tipperary.

After that initial setback, the odds were surely stacked against them with Limerick, Waterford and Cork to come and it was going to take some doing to win all those three games and having not being able to have a say on the final day of the group series.

Well, they have accomplished what many might have deemed to be an impossible task and now they can sit back and enjoy what is likely to be another tumultuous day next Sunday in a championship that just keeps on giving.

Waterford are out of the equation as far as extending their hurling Summer is concerned but for Cork, Tipperary and Limerick there's everything on the line at the Gaelic Grounds where Limerick host Cork and in Thurles where Tipperary will be hot favourites to inflict further woe on what has been a disastrous season for Waterford.

That prediction is based very much around the fact that Waterford have nothing at all to play for and that they will be outnumbered by 20 to one at least in the attendance, if not by more.

If that comes to pass it will all come down to what transpires in the Gaelic Grounds, a venue that might have difficulty in housing what is sure to be a full-capacity crowd.

Home advantage will decree that most pundits will be in Limerick's corner, that bit more so after securing what may prove to be a precious point against Tipp in Semple Stadium.


Cork looked set to bag a precious point of their own in Cusack Park, a stadium that absolutely rocked as Pat Ryan's team and Brian Lohan's charges fought out an almighty battle for supremacy.

Another draw in that old ground and few would have put up an argument either but due to the magnificence of Diarmuid Ryan in the dying embers of a quite stunning game of hurling, Clare got the verdict and Cork had to leave with nothing.

Leaving with nothing was the bottom line for them but their contribution to the proceedings was another illustration of just how far they have travelled in a very short space of time under their new management team.

Their attitude and character have been seen in all its finery in all of their games, the league semi-final loss to Kilkenny being the exception but league semi-final losses don't even merit a footnote in the pages of the hurling year.

Tony Kelly of Clare celebrates a first-half goal against Cork at Cusack Park. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Tony Kelly of Clare celebrates a first-half goal against Cork at Cusack Park. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Cork's riposte to going eight points in arrears after Tony Kelly clung a wonderful goal from a penalty shortly after halftime was another illustration of this never say die attitude in the camp and while the loss will have hurt, they can still travel up the Ennis Road next Sunday in a confident frame of mind of getting the required result.

Recent history has shown how big leads in hurling can be quickly whittled down but wiping them out requires a huge effort and Cork did put in that effort last Sunday.

Clare were probably the slightly better team over the 70-plus minutes and in Tony Kelly, Diarmuid Ryan, Peter Duggan, John Conlon and one or two others, they had individual returns that just made the minutest of differences.


Again the Cork bench influenced the proceedings, maybe not to the same extent in the scoring stakes as it did the last day against Tipperary but the arrival of Shane Kingston did work the oracle and his role in the penalty award was massive. Patrick Horgan's effort was initially saved but Deccie Dalton showed a great presence of mind to hit home the rebound.

The time has come now to start Kingston and it was even a surprise that he did not arrive on the scene until the 43rd minute.

Ger Millerick settled in well after his introduction and he may be in from the off too next Sunday.

Cork made four changes last Sunday from the Tipperary game, there's a great likelihood that a similar situation could apply for the potential monster of a game against the reigning All-Ireland champions.

Limerick must have breathed a huge sigh of relief at the outcome in Cusack Park because that meant they would still be in the equation irrespective of how they got on in Thurles.

Cork will need more consistency over the entire game next Sunday. In the period leading up to halftime against the Banner, they were second best but their second-half response compensated for that.

How much last Sunday's games took out of the three teams seeking the remaining two qualification spots from the group stage remains to be seen.

After their stunning riposte to finding themselves eight points in arrears to tie up matters, Cork could not gain what would have been a huge psychological advantage if they had managed to edge ahead on the scoreboard.

They did draw level a couple of times but crucially for Clare, they did not allow that to happen.

This is a fierce Munster championship, the playing field is so level and if Pat Ryan, John Kiely and Liam Cahill were told at the outset that they would have been still firmly in the hunt going into the final Sunday, they would have gladly accepted that fate.

Cork were always going to be slightly disadvantaged by having to travel for their final two games and in the aftermath of the Tipperary game they were fully aware that they would have to win one of those two games.

That remains the case and whilst the task facing them next Sunday is gargantuan, it is not a task beyond them.

And whilst it might not matter a great deal next Sunday, Cork won a great battle in their national league encounter after defeating them earlier in the Munster League.

In both those games, the traits of attitude and character were exhibited, they will be needed all the more now in the cauldron that the Gaelic Grounds will be next Sunday.

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