Defending Munster champions Cork will play in the new Pairc Ui Chaoimh for the first time in a competitive fixture on Saturday evening as they host Kilkenny.
With a young team, the Rebels surprised many last year but, ultimately, the campaign ended in disappointment in Croke Park as the Leesiders lost to Waterford in the All-Ireland semi-final.
However, that provincial success in July gives new manager John Meyler a good launchpad to start off 2018. Players like Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon blew onto the scene in 2017. Now, they must improve and show the newest faces on the panel what is expected of them.
Key to the Rebels success in 2018 will be these players and others like Shane Kingston, Luke Meade and Colm Spillane who are also still young, but Meyler is keen to see them develop into leaders.
Speaking at the launch on the Allianz National Hurling League, Meyler said:
“It’s year two for Shane and Fitzy (Darragh Fitzgibbon) and Coleman, Luke Meade, Colm Spillane.
“They now have to go to another level to move into the full team we’ll call it and also to try to get three or four more – Darren Browne, Tim O’Mahony, Robbie O’Flynn, Sean O’Donoghue – for them they’ve been already on the panel for a year, for them to step in to where the lads were last year.
“So we’ve kind of looked at it in terms of levels. Coleman and those are going to level 2, moving it on to become senior players now.
“But it’s going to be extremely challenging for them to maintain the performances levels that they went through last year.”
With a condensed season seeing the Rebels playing week-in, week out, Meyler pointed to the two things he wanted to see from his side over the coming weeks:
“There’s two objectives to the league, one is to be competitive and the other is to find players.
“I think they’re the two goals. You also want to win your matches.
“That’s the essence of the league. I think every county will focus that way.”
These players have the perfect chance to show their improvement when they open their Allianz League campaign against a Kilkenny side struggled last season – but Meyler is wary of reading too much into that.
“There’s no demise in Kilkenny.
“The passion and fire out of Cody on the sideline last Saturday (in the Walsh Cup final).
“After 10 minutes you’d think they were going to run away with it. Richie Reid was sent off, they went six points up, ten minutes to go, probably should have shut it out, Wexford got a goal.
“Kilkenny don’t have a demise.”
That Walsh Cup final famously as decided by a free-taking competition when they sides were level at the end of extra time.
It was the kind of big-game moments where you want the big players to step up:
So what would Meyler do if the Rebels were in such a situation?
“It’ll be Patrick Horgan, Nash, those guys would step up. You’d be holding them back.
“Lehane would step up. That’s when it shows real leaders. If it comes to that shoot-out situation, you need guys to put the ball down and put it over the bar.
“They’d step up no problem.”
With mid-week Fitzgibbon Cup games, and a Munster Senior Hurling League that saw them beaten by 10-points against Kerry, 2018 has gotten off to somewhat of a false start for Meyler and Cork.
However, Saturday provided them the opportunity to re-affirm their championship form of 2017 and announce to the country that they are a force to be reckoned with.
John Meyler was speaking at the launch of the Allianz National Hurling League at Croke Park