GIVEN that the Munster SHC is once again expected to be extremely closely fought, finding the extra few percentage points is key.
Cork begin their campaign with a home clash against Tipperary at Páirc Uí Chaoimh this Sunday. Almost under the radar, the Rebels are going for a third provincial title on the trot – the failure to back up the previous two with an All-Ireland giving them an asterisk – and the notable addition to John Meyler’s set-up this year is former Munster and New Zealand rugby star Doug Howlett.
The flying winger has the job title ‘high performance lead’ and Meyler is delighted with the impact he has already had.
‘He’s a fantastic sportsman and brings a wealth of experience in terms of performance at the higher level,’ he says.
‘He’s very much hands-on, and we’d hope he’ll bring that to the table. We’re delighted with him and the lads are delighted with him. He’s different to Gary Keegan [who held a similar role for the past few years].
‘It’s about performing, and I spoke to him recently about going into Newlands to play South Africa in front of 80,000 people – what’s coming at you, knowing what’s coming at you against Tipperary in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday when there’s 40,000 people there.
‘Tipperary have a new management, it’s going to be really competitive – a lot of the players have been there as well, in fairness, but it’s about allaying their fears. It’s about performing at that level.’
Meyler is a sporting ecumenist – he won a Collingwood Cup soccer medal with UCC while his son David has represented the Republic of Ireland – and he is always on the lookout for things to absorb into the gameplan.
‘Massively,’ he says, ‘you look at the likes of Barcelona and Manchester City, the way they move the ball – a lot of hurling is like that at the moment, working the ball and getting it back in high-pressure situations.
‘You learn from sports like the NFL in terms of set plays and so on. You have to keep yourself open to the various sports around the place.
‘It’s extremely challenging, the level of physicality has gone up in the last couple of years. You’re trying to find those players, that’s what every county is doing.’
At the end of the day, Sunday will ultimately come down to what happens inside the white lines.
The grass at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on which those lines are painted has been the subject of much discussion both last year and this, but Meyler is looking forward to getting back on home turf.
‘It’s looking green!’ he laughs.
‘I’m not a horticulturist or whatever, but the county board has put the resources into it, and hopefully that won’t be the conversation after the game – hopefully you’ll be talking about
the hurling as distinct from the match against Wexford way back [in the national league]. That has to be right.
‘After the Rod Stewart concert I think they’re closing it and resurfacing it, and please God it’ll be fine.’
Given the limited opportunities Cork have had to play at the venue, does it negate home advantage?
‘They are familiar with it,’ Meyler says, ‘we would have trained there a lot last year before the Munster final and into the All-Ireland.
‘We’re aware of that, and even when we weren’t training on the pitch we would have been down there in the gym and on the 4G pitch. The environment would have been the same.
‘But you cross the white line and that’s it.’
The Cork side to play on Sunday isn’t likely to be very different from that which lost last year’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final to Limerick after extra time, with Alan Cadogan – who missed all of last year’s championship – likely to be the major addition. One potential newcomer to the panel down the road is Na Piarsaigh’s Daire Connery, but Meyler understands the practicalities precluding his involvement right now.
‘He’s doing the Leaving Cert,’ he says.
‘We’ve spoken to him, we’ve spoken to his Dad – you have to be fair to guys who are 19 and doing their leaving cert.
The two Roches [Brian and Eoin, of Bride Rovers] are in the same situation and we’ve looked at them.’
However, the lack of change isn’t down to an absence of a shop window for players to impress Meyler and his management.
The chances are there and it’s up to the potential additions to take them.
‘The shop window was there since this time last year,’ he says.
‘You were looking at players in the U21 All-Ireland final, in the county championships last year, Fitzgibbon, Freshers, Harty Cup game – you’re looking at all of them.’