Brian Barry previews Sunday’s All-Ireland Hurling Quarter Final between Cork and Kilkenny in Semple Stadium.
Much praise was given to Kilkenny for the fashion in which they made it over the line against a feisty Waterford side in the last round of the qualifiers. Brian Cody’s charges were expected to make light work of their opponents in Semple Stadium, after an impressive showing against Tipperary. The Deise, to their credit, battled hard, but ultimately did not have enough in extra time. However, question marks remain. Previous Kilkenny teams would not have had such difficulties overcoming a Waterford side in transition. They wilted in the second half and let Waterford back into the game. Having lost to Galway in last year’s Leinster Final, they surged through a tricky path to the All-Ireland Final with relative ease. Cody’s teams have alway reacted well to defeat. Therefore, after defeat to Dublin, the disposal of Tipperary appeared to restore them to business as usual. But a stuttering performance against Waterford suggests that this great side may finally be in decline.
Others have put their stuttering form down to fatigue; perhaps playing four games in successive weeks had taken its toll on the All-Ireland Champions. The two-week break will have helped, and the first half on Sunday will tell us a lot about their prospects for the All-Ireland this year.
Paul Murphy has been the corner-stone of the Kilkenny defence, putting in immense showings throughout the summer. We have yet to see stalwarts such as Tommy Walsh and Jackie Tyrrell play to their full potential however.
Up front, the obvious statistic which will worry Brian Cody is the lack of goals. Two goals in five championship matches is not something we have associated with Kilkenny. They have always found the net when it matters most in recent years. This drought will need to end if they are going to have a chance of retaining the Liam McCarthy Cup.
The return of Henry Shefflin has provided the team with more of a moral boost than anything else thus far, but it is clear he has much to offer as the All-Ireland Championship turns for home. Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan have both put in impressive stages during the year. The return of Michael Fennelly will also boost the side. This squad is full of match winners; it is just about getting it right.
Although there is a school of thought that Kilkenny are there for the taking, there are also questions surrounding the Cork camp following their nine-point defeat in the Munster Final. A red card for Patrick Horgan rattled The Rebels, who would have fancied themselves to claim their first title since 2006. It did not all go against them in the Gaelic Grounds though; it would be foolish to assess their performance purely from the result. They came quite close in the second half before the one-man advantage told as the Treaty pulled away at the finish, and they were on top in the first half. Their win over Clare was quickly forgotten about after the final however, and now they face into do-or-die situation. But there are many causes for optimism facing into their showdown with Kilkenny.
Horgan’s ban has been rescinded, so he will lead the line in a young Cork attack. Seamus Harnedy has impressed thus far in the Championship, and has been moved into full-forward, perhaps to avoid a stern test in defence as well as attack, marking Brian Hogan. Jimmy Barry-Murphy has placed his faith in the team who lost to Limerick, barring a change at corner-forward where Jamie Coughlan replaces Cian McCarthy. Michael Cussen will definitely be an option for JBM off the bench to drop in on the edge of the square, as the Kilkenny backs have uncharacteristically struggled under the high ball so far this year. Offaly, Dublin and Tipperary all attacked them in this channel with great reward.
This game will answer a lot of questions about both teams. If Kilkenny put in a strong showing here, it will be difficult to see them anywhere other than the steps of the Hogan Stand on 8th September. Cork, on the other hand, will go into this tie with nothing to lose but a lot to prove. A Cork team as underdogs are always dangerous, and JBM would love nothing more than to put one over on Brian Cody.
Kilkenny to win, just.
Kilkenny: E Murphy; P Murphy; JJ Delaney; J Tyrrell; T Walsh; B Hogan; K Joyce; C Buckley; M Fennelly; C Fennelly; R Power; E Larkin; W Walsh; R Hogan; H Shefflin.
Cork: A Nash; C O’Sullivan; S O’Neill; S McDonnell; T Kenny; L McLoughlin; W Egan; C Joyce; D Kearney; J Coughlan; P Cronin; C Lehane; L O’Farrell; S Harnedy; P Horgan.
Sport is Everything. Brian Barry.