BY JOHNNY CAROLAN
TAKING the positives from the Allianz Hurling League campaign as a whole – and learning from the disappointing final defeat to Waterford – are the main objectives for Cork hurling manager Kieran Kingston as Limerick come to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for Sunday’s Munster SHC opener (4pm).
It’s a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final, in which the Shannonsiders had a 16-point margin, as John Kiely’s side come south for what is Cork’s only home game in the returning round-robin format.
While the Rebels impressed for much of the spring, the reversal to Waterford in Thurles a fortnight ago cast a shadow. Kingston believes they must put the league final to one side in the sense of not dwelling on it, while also ensuring that the same mistakes are avoided.
‘It’s a combination of both,’ he says.
‘You must give credit to Waterford – they’re a really good team, they showed that right throughout the league and in the last couple of championships.
‘Again, like ourselves, they’re developing as a group and they’ve lost a significant number of finals – two All-Ireland finals, league finals, Munster finals – in the last six or seven years.
‘You can see now that they’re starting to evolve as a group and we’re trying to do the same.
‘In that development and process, there are learnings and some of them are harsh learnings and they’re tough to swallow, but you have to take them.
‘If we lost the league semi-final to Kilkenny by a point, nobody would be having this conversation with us so it’s great in one way to have that challenge in a final and take those lessons from it.
‘The challenge now for us as a management team and players is to make sure that we negate those for the future. We did that quite well in the league – in the final we didn’t and we just have to take the lessons from it now.’
In addition, the positive experiences gained from wins over Clare, Offaly, Limerick, Galway and Kilkenny in the semi-final need not be cast to one side.
‘For us, after we got on a bit of a run last year and got to only a second All-Ireland final in 16 years, it was important that we would have a very competitive league campaign to show that the group is becoming that little bit more consistent,’ says Kingston.
‘The league is all about consistency, this year especially, because it’s so close to the championship. You don’t have another pre-season between the league and the championship.
‘We said this from the outset and I think the league gave us a reflection of our development as a group. Winning five games out of seven was positive and we got to see players.
‘However, when you get to a final, you want to win, no question about it. You try to look at the positives in terms of getting to a second national final in eight months, it’s great, but not getting over the line is disappointing. At the same time, you have to dust yourselves down, take the positives from the league, close that chapter straightaway.’
Limerick’s league form was poor, with only one win, coming against Offaly in their final match. Kingston expects something closer to the ruthless machine that has claimed the last two All-Irelands but he’s not getting preoccupied with something he can’t control.
‘Everybody knows that Limerick are a serious outfit,’ he says, ‘they’ve proven that over the last number of years.
‘I can’t speak for Limerick or for what’s been going on in their camp, our focus leading into this game is the same as it has been for every game that we’ve played in the league and that’s been on ourselves.
‘We’re trying to get our own game right and get our own group right, because they’re things we can control on any given day – we can’t control what goes on in other camps so there is no great point in over-focusing on the opposition.’
In terms of player availability, Kingston expects to have close to a full squad.
‘Dáire O’Leary is back training but Sunday is probably coming a bit too soon for him,’ he says.
‘We have concerns over one or two others, but it’s par for the course at the moment, in the context of having so many games and it being only two weeks since the league final.
‘We’re no different to other counties that way.’
And, with Ed Sheeran’s upcoming gigs in Páirc Uí Chaoimh meaning Cork must face Clare in Thurles, Kingston is hopeful that the Cork support will come out on Sunday.
‘This is our only home game in the round-robin,’ he says, ‘it’s the only one where the supporters can come out and see their team playing at home.
‘The All-Ireland champions coming to Cork to face the team that they beat in the final last year, it’s a dream draw for hurling.
‘We expect a full house and a great Cork crowd there on Sunday and it’ll be a fantastic atmosphere, no question about it. Our intention is to give a performance that reflects that level of support.’