Sport

THE LAST WORD: Inspired Cork hurlers left their mark

May 22nd, 2022 8:00 AM

By Ger McCarthy

The Cork Senior Hurlers are still in the championship race following the win over Waterford. (Photo: George Hatchell).

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Cork’s fate is in their own hands following their brilliant win over the Waterford hurlers last weekend

The Cork senior hurlers morale-boosting performance and victory were as welcome as they were unexpected in Walsh Park last weekend.

Be honest, did you see that win coming? Me neither.

Kieran Kingston, his management team and players shipped their fair share of criticism, much of it justified, following two uninspiring displays against Limerick and Clare in the opening rounds of this year’s Munster SHC.

It wasn’t so much the 2-25 to 1-17 (Limerick) and 0-28 to 2-20 (Clare) losses, it was the manner in which Cork were physically bullied and failed to respond in those Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Thurles encounters.

Sometimes, when it comes to sport, it is the hope that kills you. Cork hurling is a case in point.

Last August, a revitalised Cork senior hurling team strode out on to Croke Park on the crest of a wave. The Rebels looked primed for a serious tilt at reigning champions Limerick. Under Kieran Kingston’s guidance, and on the back of underage All-Ireland successes, Cork rebounded from their provincial championship exit to the same opponents and in style.

Ending Clare, Dublin and Kilkenny’s interest in the competition, Kingston’s men lined up at GAA HQ seemingly with a decent chance of dethroning the champions.

What followed was a reminder of how far the Rebels still have to go to get their hands on Liam McCarthy. Limerick romped to a 16-point victory and were full value for it.

So it was hardly surprising that Cork’s prospects ahead of this year’s National League campaign were tempered somewhat by what happened in Jones’ Road a few months before.

Hope sprang eternal as swashbuckling victories over Clare, Offaly, Galway and Limerick, yes Limerick, saw Cork qualify for the Division 1 semi-finals producing some of the most effective hurling of Kingston’s tenure. Not even an alarming loss away to Wexford could dampen hopes as the Rebels edged out Kilkenny in the semi-finals.

Yet again, Cork supporters' hopes were dashed in the league decider as Waterford spoiled the party following a six-point victory. Another opportunity to lift a trophy dashed at the final hurdle.

Cork supporters were beginning to wonder just what was this 2022 version of the county’s senior hurling team’s identity. Which Cork would turn up for the Munster championship and would the best version be good enough to get back to Croke Park?

No one was quite sure but everyone inside the Rebel county hoped for the best.

That’s why the manner of Cork’s victory over the Déise was more important than the actual final score last weekend. In Kieran Kingston’s own words, it was a season-defining game.

Going into Walsh Park, defeating the National League champions and ending Waterford’s undefeated Munster SHC run revitalised Cork’s hopes of qualifying for the All-Ireland series. It also gave provincial competition seemingly petering out a welcome shot in the arm.

The Cork players’ attitude, character and skill levels were no longer being questioned at the end of the fully deserved 2-22 to 1-19 win.

Does this one performance make the Rebel county one of the favourites to reach another All-Ireland final? Absolutely not but the display and how Cork went about their business has re-energised the entire Rebel hurling community. Once again there is hope.

Even more impressively, Kingston’s side’s victory was not down to one or two individual displays. It took an entire team effort to overcome Waterford and the Rebels delivered.

On a history-making afternoon, Patrick Horgan reminded everyone of his deadly accuracy from placed sliotars. Seamus Harnedy bossed the middle third in both halves and chipped in with 0-5. Luke Meade did all the unseen work and more that makes him invaluable to the Cork senior setup. Darragh Fitzgibbon was a colossus, as was Seán O’Donoghue. Damien Cahalane quietened Stephen Bennett. Patrick Collins pulled off two world-class saves and Shane Kingston ran riot when sprung from the bench.

On a day when there was no room for error, Cork’s backs were against the wall or whatever cliché you want to use, Kieran Kingston’s men delivered. The manager made a point of saying how proud he was that his players played for one another, played for the Cork jersey and their supporters. That’s all anyone can ask.

All this means that Cork travel to Thurles for another must-win clash against a struggling Tipperary on Sunday. Rekindling the defiant mood that helped Cork sweep past the Déise will be imperative. This is a Tipperary team desperate to give their supporters something to shout about. They, of all teams, will not bow down and hand Cork victory.

This is no time to be pessimistic. Cork’s lack of aggression, inability to ‘mix-it’ or just stand up when the going got tough was questioned over the last couple of weeks.

Kieran Kingston, his management team and players gave their response in Walsh Park last Sunday. A similar response is needed in Semple Stadium on Sunday.

For now at least, hope springs eternal when it comes to the Cork hurlers.

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