BY JOHNNY CAROLAN
A HOME Allianz Hurling League semi-final against Kilkenny represents the ideal preparation for Cork’s upcoming championship campaign according to manager Kieran Kingston.
Having finished second in Group A of Division 1, losing only to Wexford in last week’s final game after both sides had secured last-four spots, Cork host the Cats – winners of Group B – in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday night (7.15pm).
While the first round of the Munster SHC against Limerick at the same venue is now just three weeks away, Kingston doesn’t feel that reaching the knockout stages of the league is a distraction.
‘As I said at the start of the league, we never looked beyond the next game,’ he said.
‘The next game, obviously, happens to be a league semi-final against Kilkenny, after they topped their group, at home in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. For us, that’s a huge game.
‘It’s three weeks out from championship – if you didn’t have it, you might be looking for challenge matches and no challenge game would give you the same preparation that the league semi-final would.
‘It’s our last home game, it’s one we didn’t expect to have before the championship. It’s a great game for us to have three weeks out from the championship, against a top team in front of our own supporters.
‘I think it’ll be a big occasion, it’s a big occasion for Cork hurling and for the supporters. It’s a game that we’re delighted to be involved in.’
Cork shuffled their pack for the trip to Chadwicks Wexford Park, giving a rest to players like Seán O’Donoghue and Tim O’Mahony, who had been carrying niggles. It is expected that they will have close to a full squad to choose from and Kingston is satisfied that the challenge facing his team will be close to full-blooded, given how Kilkenny usually approach such matters.
‘Absolutely,’ he said.
‘Everybody knows that Kilkenny’s attitude towards the league has been to try to win every game, they’re probably the most successful national league team over the last two decades.
‘Every league game they play, they go out to win it no matter what kind of a team they have out. We know that Kilkenny coming to town on Saturday night are going to be coming with their best team and are going to give it their best shot.
‘It’ll be really competitive, a massive challenge for us. If you go back to last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, there wasn’t a puck of a ball between the teams and it took 90 minutes, nearly a hundred, to separate the two teams.
‘It’ll be a huge game again, a big occasion for us and great preparation for the championship in three weeks’ time.’