BY JOHNNY CAROLAN
IN terms of the size of task needed to qualify for the All-Ireland series, having to go to Limerick and beat the All-Ireland champions is as tough as one could wish.
However, Cork manager Pat Ryan doesn’t think his team have any fear with regard to the size of the challenge in TUS Gaelic Grounds on Sunday (4pm).
The Rebels came back from eight points down to beat Limerick in this year’s Allianz Hurling League, having already overcome the Shannonsiders in the Co-op SuperStores Munster Hurling League.
Add in victories at under-age level, the survivors from the 2019 win on the Ennis Road and the fact that Limerick have, like Cork, won one, drawn one and lost one this year, and the task seems less impossible.
‘I don’t think there’s any fear factor, to be honest,’ Ryan says.
‘If you look at it, a lot of our players have beaten Limerick before and performed well. The one anomaly is the 2021 All-Ireland final, that was a savage performance by Limerick on the day and our fellas didn’t perform as well as they would have liked either.
‘I think we’re well there in it – we’ve been performing well all year, our fellas are in good form, we’re fighting for every ball and that’ll have to be the same.
‘From our point of view, we’re looking at it as a fantastic opportunity – to be honest with you, and being genuine about it, we’d have taken it if you’d asked us six or seven months ago.
‘Going into the last game in Limerick and needing to win to get out, we’d have taken it. It is very competitive and we’ve a great opportunity on Sunday to go out and express ourselves.’
Ryan does accept, though, that Cork need to tighten up in a few areas in the wake of last Sunday’s defeat to Clare.
‘Obviously, we’re creating an awful lot of goal chances so we need to be more efficient on that,’ he says.
‘One thing that has happened against Tipperary and now Clare is that we’ve faded out of the second quarters and haven’t scored enough in those periods. Obviously, teams will get their purple patches – even if you only lose the second quarter by 1-8 to 0-5 or 0-6, they’re the areas we need to be improving.
‘When we were dominant against Clare, they were still able to get five or six points in those quarters when we were getting 1-8 or 1-4 or 1-5. Obviously, we gave away a good few long-range scores and that’s something that Limerick does an awful lot so we need to be tightened up around there.’
Any prolonged run in the championship would require beating a top team and Ryan expects the team to rise to the occasion.
‘There were 30,000 there against Waterford, 36-37,000 against Tipperary, 20,000 above in Clare – they’ve been great days for our fellas to test themselves and see where they’re at,’ he says.
‘I think our fellas have shown that they have the character and attitude that we’re looking for. There’s different areas around the hurling and maybe set-up and things like that that we need to get right and improve upon, but we’re very proud of the way the lads are playing for the jersey, which was key to us.
‘We wanted to put in a consistent level of performance this year and I think we are putting in that but everybody knows that it’s the acid test for that now on Sunday.’