Bonus territory for Cork hurlers
“Pleased with the result, but not the performance that would not be good enough against Galway in the semi-final.” So said Jimmy Barry Murphy in the immediate aftermath of the quarter-final win over Waterford. As the countdown to Sunday’s game is well underway you can be certain that Cork’s training has been geared to delivering a consistent 70 minutes against a side that demolished Cork in last year’s Championship.
Memories of that defeat are still fresh in Tom Kenny’s mind. “Yes it was a very poor performance and one that as a group we were not proud of, but we have to forget it and focus on Sunday, another tough test.”
It’s been a strange few months for the Grenagh man, so long a permanent fixture under successive managers, he suddenly found himself on the periphery of the team during the league.
“It was a bit strange but it is not about any one player it’s all about the squad, so I just knuckled down worked hard and thankfully it has worked out okay.”
Kenny was selected for the Championship opener against Tipperary and has comfortably retained his position since, bringing a wealth of experience to the side, somewhat ironic that the half-back line that finished the Waterford game had a familiar ring to it with Kenny, Gardiner and Ó hAilpín.
Kenny has been impressed working under JBM. “It's fantastic really. His man-management skills are fabulous and of course he was such a great player so it is fabulous that he is at the helm and with a nice blend of youth and experience it’s been a good year so far, but we still have not won anything and that what it is all about - winning.”
As for Sunday Tom is in no doubt that Galway are favourites and a huge improvement is required if the season is to be extended.
“Galway were so good against Kilkenny that our recent displays would not be good enough but we have worked hard in training and really looking forward to the match and there is something special about playing in Croke Park on big championship days.”
Jimmy concurs: “It is great to be where we are but we want to go further, but this is a massive test, not many teams do to Kilkenny what Galway did and that is the challenge.”
The manager also accepts that while Cork are in the last four they have yet to put a full 70 minute performance together.
“I suppose the closest we came was in the Tipperary game, in the other wins (over Offaly and Wexford), there was a lack of intensity, that was upped a bit last time out, but it will need to be raised again on Sunday.”
Galway are one of hurling’s greatest mysteries. Given the under-age success they have had over the years, their failure to win the Liam McCarthy Cup since 1988, is truly mysterious.
One word could really sum it up - consistency. How often have they followed a famous win with an abject display? Too often, many would say and has that changed this year? Sunday will provide the answer.
Manager Anthony Cunningham really got it spot on for the Kilkenny game, but was that as much about Kilkenny being below par or are Galway that good? As reports would indicate Kilkenny placed huge emphasis on their first round with Dublin and might have dipped a bit for the clash with the men from the West.
That said it was a classy display and if Galway play as well on Sunday, Cork will struggle, but then that is the enigma that are Galway.
Galway possess quality players, none more so then Joe Canning and when the Portumna man is on top of his game he is almost unstoppable. Who Cork detail to pick him will really have to deliver a really big performance.
Of course there is more to Galway then Canning with Niall Burke, Andy Smith, Damien Hayes and Cyril Donnelan, who is doubtful. They are a formidable looking attacking unit, that will demand total concentration for the duration of the contest.
James Skehill is a commanding presence in goal while Tony Óg Regan, Johnny Coen and captain Fergal Moore anchor a solid defence.
The composition of the Cork team will be interesting. Will Eoin Cadogan start given his limited participation in training, but his abrasive play, evident again last Sunday, could be important against the physicality Galway possess?
Stephen McDonnell excelled at full-back, Brian Murphy’s tight marking will be needed and Sean Óg should be at number seven, but will he cope with the pace and space in Croke Park?
Will Darren Sweetnam start? Conor Lehane should return and the McCarthy’s Niall and Cian will look to improve, while Patrick Horgan and Paudie O’Sullivan have a bit more in them.
Cork’s recent record in the Championship against Galway is only fair, but all of these games have been played outside of Croke Park in fact you have to go back to 1985 for Galway’s last win in HQ, also in a semi-final and on a day JBM was missing through injury.
Given the manner in which Galway won in Leinster they are under all the pressure, very few give Cork a chance; an ideal position for the young rebels.
The late lamented Johnny Clifford once said, "a well prepared Cork team will always beat Galway".
That’s good enough for me - Cork to win.