BY JOHNNY CAROLAN
UNBEATEN after three matches – for the first time since 2018 – Cork sit atop Division 1 Group A of the Allianz Hurling League following the recent big win over Westmeath.
In a sense, they were on a hiding to nothing ahead of a game where they were such hot favourites but manager Kieran Kingston was nevertheless happy that there was no complacency and satisfied with how the opening stages to the league have gone.
‘In a game like that, you’re kind of damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t,’ he said.
‘If you don’t win by 20 points, you’re no good, and if you do win by 20 points, you should have won by 30, so it’s difficult to know what to take from it.
‘I suppose I wouldn’t look at that game in its own right. I said it before the start of the league that we would look at things after three games and have a better sense of where we’re at.
‘Three weeks ago, if you’d said to me that we’d have five points on the board after three games, I’d have accepted it, given that we were playing the All-Ireland finalists and then the All-Ireland champions of two years ago. Two games at home, we’d have taken that.
‘This has given us the opportunity to, number one, build a bit of momentum but also to look at some of our panel.
‘We’ve taken an attitude of rotating four or five each game and again today, obviously by the end it was a lot more than that but that gives us an opportunity to see if we can give guys a chance and also to build a squad for the championship.’
And, while Cork’s style of play has come in for some external criticism, the manager isn’t bothered.
‘You’re always going to get that,’ Kingston said, ‘to be honest I don’t read much of it.
‘My attitude is that we have a group of players and a backroom and we’re working together as a unit. We keep all other stuff outside the group and we try to do the best we can.
‘If you go back to the championship last year, there were probably people who were maybe saying – if there were, and I’m not on any social media, so I can’t comment – about not hitting the ball long, down on top of a sweeper. They were probably the same people who were saying last week, ‘Why didn’t you hit it long?’ so you’re never going to win with some people!
‘I think the key thing is that a lot didn’t realise that Tipperary set up with a sweeper, so we had to work the ball a little bit differently. Yes, at times, did we over-elaborate? A hundred percent, we went lateral at times too much, but the alternative was to puck it down on top of seven defenders against six attackers.’
The intricate interplay is the platform for the creation of more goal opportunities, in tandem with defending from the front to force turnovers close to goal. It has led to 14 goals for Cork in just three games, something very heartening for Kingston.
‘That is something we are working on,’ he said.
‘We spoke about it before. At times, that'll come off and other times it won't and you just have to take your point. When they come off, they are great and it did at times today and it did at times in the other games, but other times it doesn't and you get turned over.
‘With respect to Westmeath, today was really about focusing on us, see could we back a performance with a performance, with a performance and not bring any complacency into our game today. Secondly, we weren't taking anything for granted. We may have done that last year up in Westmeath and we were very, very lucky to get a result up there, really lucky. That was in the back of our minds today. We didn't want to be in a dogfight with 15/20 minutes to go.’