BY GER McCARTHY
CORK senior hurling selector Pat Hartnett is under no illusions about the challenge Clare pose ahead of this weekend’s Munster senior hurling final clash in Thurles.
Despite Sunday representing Clare’s first Munster final appearance in almost a decade and the fact they are without a provincial title in 19 years, Cork are not underestimating their opponents and making sure they treat the Banner county with the respect they deserve.
‘We are going to be really up against it when we face Clare,’ Cork senior selector Pat Hartnett told The Southern Star.
‘You have to acknowledge that when you see that they have won four U21 All-Ireland titles between 2009 and 2014. That is some pool of talent to draw from.
‘We are under no illusions about the challenge we face this weekend having played Clare seven or eight weeks ago behind closed doors in Páirc Uí Rinn. They brought a full team with them and only rested one or two lads on the night so every Cork player now knows what to expect on Sunday.
‘As for the public, managing expectations should be straightforward when you consider Clare were national league champions in 2016 plus U21 All-Ireland winners in 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Let’s be realistic, we face a huge test here against a very good Clare team.
‘Also, Munster finals can take on a life of their own. Hurling can be a game of errors sometimes where the team that executes the fewest amounts of errors usually wins the game. It can come down to match temperament as well but if we can keep doing what we have been doing and the things that have helped us gain positive results then we will be able to put our best foot forward.’
Kieran Kingston’s decision to allow senior panellists return to their respective clubs in between their Munster successes has also proved a positive step. Clearly, the ability to take part in intense, club championship encounters certainly hasn’t hurt the rebels’ cause.
‘The vast majority of club championship games have been watched and covered by our backroom team so far this year,’ Hartnett admitted.
‘Obviously there is a big step up to inter-county level and ultimately that’s what they are judged on but the standard (club) has been good. The real positive is that we can see how well the Cork senior players are performing.
‘Ultimately, the health and well-being of our players is one of the most important elements that Kieran and the rest of us have to consider. You want to be as fair and accommodating as you can to the players, the clubs and the inter-county panel.
‘You can see the difference when they go back to their clubs. From our goalkeeper Anthony Nash right up to Patrick Horgan in the corner, every one of them has led the way for their respective clubs. A lot of credit is due to the lads for playing at the top of their game and maintaining that form since the start of the summer.’
Buying into a collective team ethic is one of the main reasons Midleton and Cork’s Pat Hartnett believes Kieran Kingston has been able to turn his inter-county squad’s fortunes around this year. That, plus the squad’s professionalism and close bond means Cork has every chance of overcoming Clare this weekend.
‘I think the professionalism of the players has really shone through this year,’ Hartnett commented.
‘There is a mantra I firmly believe in that states it is amazing what can be achieved when people don’t mind who gets the credit. On the field, as regards who gets the scores, when you look at the players, you can see how generous they are with the sliotar. They are looking up and seeing what the best option is and finding the guy in a better position to execute a score.
‘Think of the Mark Coleman ball to Pat Horgan for his absolutely scintillating point down in Thurles. That comes from genuine team spirit and camaraderie.’
The build-up to this year’s Munster final is slightly different for Cork in that a new level of expectation has arrived following memorable displays against Tipperary and Waterford. As a result, the Rebels hurling supporters have their mojo back. Yet, Pat Hartnett points out that Cork’s preparations will remain unchanged irrespective of the occasion or opponent.
‘The process we have followed all year is exactly the same for this Munster final, nothing has changed in our build-up and we will continue to follow the same path,’ noted the Midleton club stalwart.
‘The players are exceptionally fit and have been coached to an extraordinary level by Sarsfield’s Pat Ryan. I think that Pat’s contribution needs to be acknowledged. The lads are playing the way they are training and that all comes down to what we are doing with them.
‘I guess one of the most pleasing aspects for us is that Cork are improving. It might sound like an understatement but there is clear improvement there this year.
‘There’s a clear game plan as well. As I said earlier, when everyone buys into the same philosophy it doesn’t really matter who gets the scores as long as we are scoring.
‘When that philosophy is followed to the letter of the law then it is amazing what can be achieved. It takes true team spirit to buy into it and doing the best thing for the team rather than what’s best for you as an individual.’