WHAT a difference a week makes.
After a Hallowe'en horror in Thurles the previous Saturday, Cork weren’t exactly in a winter wonderland this time around but there was an improvement of sufficient magnitude to see off Dublin and progress to an All-Ireland round 3 qualifier against Tipperary this weekend in Limerick.
Where there was lethargy against Waterford, here there was urgency, exemplified by the recalled Luke Meade in midfield and the return of Robbie O’Flynn – suspended for the Waterford match – at right half-forward. He scored five points from play while Séamus Harnedy had the same output. Shane Kingston had four point to his name, with his driving runs causing problems for Dublin.
Having lamented the poor workrate against the Déise, manager Kieran Kingston was pleased to see a better reflection of his side’s capabilities.
‘We’re much happier,’ he said.
‘I thought our performance was really good, I thought the workrate was really good, the subs that we brought in gave us a lift.
‘In a compacted championship like this, you’re going from club championship to inter-county championship, so it takes a small while to get up to it.
‘We have a lot of tired guys in there, five or six lads cramping, so it’s good to have them to come in and give us a lift.’
Knitting it all together was Mark Coleman, who was able to operate as a spare man in the half-back line. He was on the ball 30 times and used his intelligence to provide good quality ball to those further forward.
Kingston was certainly impressed with what he saw from the Blarney man.
‘Mark’s hurling speaks for itself and we all know what he can do,’ he said.
‘He had freedom to move across the half-back line and we pushed him out and back. He’s an outstanding player, he showed it last week and again today.’
However, enthusiasm must be tempered by the fact that Dublin were not as good as Waterford, impeded somewhat by the fact that this was their third straight week in a row to have to play after Leinster championship matches against Laois and Kilkenny.
Tipperary in the LIT Gaelic Grounds on Saturday are likely to be tougher again and Cork have the drawback of not having a full squad to choose from. Corner-back Seán O’Donoghue, also much improved from the Waterford game, was forced off injured and is a doubt. In addition, Cork lacked attacking reinforcements to come in from the bench as Douglas part Alan Cadogan and Brian Turnbull – as well as Cadogan’s older brother, Eoin – were all ruled out and could be absent again.
‘Seán O’Donoghue, we’ll have to assess,’ he said.
‘Iit’s a bit early yet. Darragh Fitzgibbon and Alan and Eoin Cadogan – it’s unlikely either will be available for next weekend. Alan hurt his quad during the week, so it’s unlikely he’ll be available for the weekend.
‘Recovery is key now. A few lads went down with cramp so we’ll have recovery, a good session on Wednesday and have them as fresh as we can for the weekend.’
Facing Cork will be a Tipperary side keen to bounce back after being well beaten by Limerick, possessing the benefit of an extra week’s rest since that game. The All-Ireland champions outclassed Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the opening round of last year’s Munster championship and, while Cork won at the same venue in the league in February, Liam Sheedy’s side will be favourites.
If one was looking for an omen, it would be that Cork’s best performance of the 2019 championship came in Limerick, outclassing the Shannonsiders, who, like Tipp now, were the reigning champions.
The problem then was that Cork couldn’t back up the victory, with consistent good performances an Achilles heel for John Meyler’s side. A fragmented year, with the county championships running late, isn’t the ideal way to be able to put that right and Cork haven’t won a knockout game in the All-Ireland championship against a fellow Munster county since beating Clare in 2015.
Cork reached the quarter-finals in 2019, under-performing there against Kilkenny despite a tour de force from Patrick Horgan, who scored 3-10. Not matching that would be a failure on paper but Kingston’s comments have pointed to the focus also being on 2021 rather than just this irregular campaign.
Given that quite a few of Tipp’s integral figures – Brendan Maher, Pádraic Maher and Séamus Callanan – are over 30, it could be said that it’s a must-not-lose for them as the chances to add more medals recede. Indeed, Tipp haven’t retained the Liam MacCarthy Cup since 1965, something else they will want to put right.
Against that, Cork have their own over-30s in Horgan and goalkeeper Anthony Nash but overall Tipp have greater experience and more of a recent track record, even allowing for Cork’s Munster titles of 2017 and 2018.
The signs would point to a Tipp victory but, as we saw in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday, surprises are not out of the question this year.