BY NOEL HORGAN
AHEAD of next Sunday’s Munster SHC quarter-final clash with Tipperary, Cork manager Kieran Kingston is under no illusions about the enormity of the task facing his charges in Thurles.
While Cork were well-beaten in their opening assignment at the same venue last year, Kingston contends that the challenge is even stiffer now in view of what Tipp have accomplished in the meantime.
‘In winning the All-Ireland last year, Tipp got a monkey off their back, because people were saying they should have been winning it for the past few seasons,’ he says.
‘Now that they have got over the line, and are the Munster and All-Ireland champions, it means they are more solid, more experienced and more confident, and obviously it’s going to be a massive test for us next Sunday.
‘It doesn’t getting any tougher than this, competing against the best team in the country on their home patch, and, after losing the National League final against Galway, any sense of complacency Tipp might have had going into the game certainly won’t be there now.
On a more positive note, the Rebel boss suggests that Cork are also in better shape than they were this time last year.
‘We were very much a team in transition in 2016,’ he says, ‘and judging from our performances so far this year, you’d like to think we have made decent progress.
‘While the Munster League wouldn’t be regarded as a meaningful competition by most people, it gave us a bit of a boost to win it, and we came second in Division 1A of the National League, having brought a significant number of new players on to our panel.
‘We blooded a lot of them over the course of the campaign, and if we’d been told we’d win three out of five games in the group when we started out, beating the likes of Waterford and Tipperary, we’d gladly have taken it.’
Kingston accepts that the championship is a big step up, particularly for the newcomers, but he stressed they aren’t going to be judged on just one game.
‘They have to start somewhere, I mean how else are they going to learn, and it was encouraging the way most of them performed in the league.
‘The championship is a different kettle of fish altogether, but all we’re asking from the players is to give it their all for the full 70 minutes in every game and see where it leaves us.
‘Our mantra from the start has always been to try and deliver an individual and collective performance to the best of our ability, and that’s what we are hoping for against Tipp.’
Coping with the threat from the Tipp attack is going to a big issue for Cork, given that, despite using a sweeper at the back, they were badly exposed defensively in last year’s encounter.
‘It’s no secret how good the Tipp forwards are, and we weren’t the only crowd who couldn’t handle them last year,’ notes Kingston.
‘Tipp won the Munster and All-Ireland finals by a collective winning margin of ten goals, which speaks for itself in terms of their potency up front, so how our defence measures up will have a big bearing on our prospects on Sunday.
‘But we can’t spend too much time worrying about what Tipp, or any other team for that matter, can do, all we’re focusing on is ourselves, and I’m satisfied we’re as well prepared as we can be to give it our best shot, especially considering how the season has gone for us up to now.’
Needless to say, Kingston wasn’t going to make any bold prediction regarding the outcome, but he intimated that Cork aren’t completely without a chance of pulling off an upset.
‘We’re happy with the league campaign,’ he says, ‘the lads have trained really, really hard, and we couldn’t ask for any more from them in terms of effort and commitment, so I’m expecting we’ll make it much more difficult for Tipp than was the case last year.’
The good news for the Cork management is that they have no major injury-problems ahead of the showdown with Tipp, and the likelihood is they’ll have a full squad to pick from, with experienced midfielder Daniel Kearney the only doubt at the moment.
‘Daniel is returning from an Achilles injury, so it’s fifty/fifty that he’ll be available, but we have a clean bill of health otherwise,’ says Kingston.