The resurgence of Cork hurling this summer has arguably been the story of the championship so far.
Cork have endured somewhat of a barron spell ever since clinching the 2014 Munster championship. They went on to lose to Tipperary in emphatic fashion in that year’s All-Ireland semi-final and haven’t made it back to that stage of the championship until now. There was a perception on Leeside that Cork hurling was at its lowest ebb, in a cauldron of despair, that it would be many moons until the Rebels took their seat at hurling’s top table again.
Well, how wrong a perception that has been proved to be.
Kieran Kingston has overseen a drastic change in the fortunes of this team since taking the reigns. Despite the disappointment of a qualifier exit at the hands of Wexford in his first year in the position as bainisteoir, Kingston’s policy of youth has paid dividends to this point for Cork. They are provincial champions yet again and with the addition of new faces to the panel such as Mark Coleman, Shane Kingston, Luke Meade, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Colm Spillane and Mikey Cahalane proving a more than welcome boost, the experienced team members in the dressing room such as Anthony Nash, Patrick Horgan, Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy have drawn inspiration and rediscovered their best form.
As a unit, this Rebel outfit have progressed leaps and bounds under Kingston’s watchful eye. They have seen themselves move from the fearful position of becoming irrelevant in the conversation of contenders for Liam MacCarthy Cup glory to being right in line, just two steps away from their first All-Ireland title since 2005.
Of course, the small matters of Waterford and Galway lie between here and there for Cork, and while excitement and anticipation for Sunday is building steadily on the banks of the Lee this week, county legend Joe Deane has a reality check for the Rebels faithful.
Deane, an iconic and heroic figure of the championship winning teams of the noughties for Cork, is of the opinion that this year is too soon for followers of Kingston’s side to expect an end to the 12-year famine for September glory in Croke Park. The Killeagh clubman believes that Cork should be content with their Munster title this year and that they will have their hands on that coveted All-Ireland crown again, but later, rather than sooner.
Speaking to The Irish Sun, the former corner-forward expressed his views:
“I’d be reasonably confident that over the next five, six or seven years we’d be in with a shout of winning the senior All-Ireland.
“Did I think it would happen this year? Absolutely not — particularly with the manner in which we bowed out of the Championship last year against Wexford.
“It’s been great, but I can’t see it happening this year,” he said.
Ahead of the crunch clash with the Déise this weekend, ‘Deano’ is wary of the threat that they will pose to Cork. He feels that having overcome the Waterford challenge in Munster already this year may work against the Rebels come Sunday evening, citing the amount of hurling Derek McGrath’s side have under their belts since that defeat in Thurles in comparison to their opposition.
For that reason, he fancies Waterford this weekend.
“Success for them (Waterford) is winning an All-Ireland title, where as Cork are in a different frame of mind, getting their performances right this year.
“We’ve won a trophy but it’s very hard to beat a team a second time. Waterford will be streets ahead of where they were in June.
“There has been as much talk about the teams they have beaten in the last three games — as opposed to what Cork have done,” he concluded.
So, while there is no question that small ball fortunes in Cork are on the upward trajectory, given the success of the u-17 and minor teams in the county also this year, along with what the seniors have displayed in 2017 to this point, Sunday will be the true test of Kingston’s charges.
Be sure to check out the latest episode of our weekly GAA podcast, The 16th Man, where we preview Cork vs. Waterford, question if the Super 8s is already doomed, hear from Mickey Harte and Jim Gavin after their quarter-final victories, and discuss Galway’s thrilling win over Tipperary.
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