Here is how Cork and Tipperary are shaping up in their quest for All Ireland glory
Published 18/04/2015 | 02:30
The Cats are away so the mice are coming to play in their house.
It's ironic than in a season when, unusually, Kilkenny did not reach the Allianz hurling League knock-out stages, the semi-finalists are heading for Nowlan Park, where they will attempt to inject more substance into the ultimate objective of taking over at No.1.
Brian Cody and his various cohorts will, no doubt, attend tomorrow's games, checking out how some of the main opposition are building for the season.
Kilkenny played three of them over the last two months, losing to Tipperary and Dublin and beating Cork.
Dublin remain very much on their immediate radar as possible opposition in the Leinster championship, with the possibility of playing Cork or Tipperary in the background for later on, either in the All-Ireland qualifiers or the big September action.
Tipperary and Cork have always been Kilkenny's biggest rivals in a decades-long battle for supremacy and while various others are now in strong contention too, the 'Big 3' remain way ahead on the honours' table.
With Kilkenny parked until mid-summer's day when they begin their championship campaign against Wexford or a Round Robin qualifier, there's considerable attention on Tipperary and Cork as they chase the first big prize of the season
Here's how they are shaping up.
Why do Cork need a League win?
They have not won a national title for 10 years, a very long time by their standards. Also, it's 17 years since they last won the League, their longest wait between titles in the 89-year history of the competition. History apart, there's the issue of closing out deals.
Cork failed to do it against Clare in the 2013 All-Ireland final and, after positioning themselves well with a Munster title win last year, they imploded against Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final. They need to reinforce the view - both internally and among rivals - that they have injected the required amount of consistency into their game to see challenges through to a successful conclusion. Winning a League title would help in the process. Besides, their last League title win in 1988 was the forerunner to a great period.
Why do Tipperary need a League win?
They lost the last two finals to Kilkenny so they won't want to become the first county since Limerick in 1972-73-74 to be beaten in three successive finals. They also lost the 2011 and 2014 All-Ireland finals so that's four times in the last four years that they came up short. It's time to get that out of their system.
Have the managers given any indication that they regard a League title as very important this year?
Jimmy Barry-Murphy didn't make many references to specific targets, other than making sure Cork stayed in 1A, while Eamon O'Shea has spoken about the League as it was about as reliable as a political promise.
"Make no judgements until the ball speeds up." (after beating Galway)
"It's just a League match. You win some, you lose some. We're happy to have won but it says nothing about nothing." (after beating Clare)
"It's a game in March - take it for what it is." (after beating Kilkenny)
Now that we are well into April, O'Shea may read more into performances.
Anything interesting about Cork's League campaign so far?
Apart from putting 0-34 past Dublin, they hit Tipperary for 4-21 and still lost. But then, they scored 4-19 against Tipperary in last year's League quarter-final and also lost. It's something they will need to address if they and Tipperary qualify for the final.
The Cork defence had good days too, restricting Clare to 0-17, Galway to 0-20 and Wexford to 0-14. Their average score in their six League games so far is: For 2-20; Against 1-19.
Newcomer, Cormac Murphy has settled in impressively at left half-back, which is encouraging.
Anything noteworthy about Tipperary's advance to the semi-final?
Losing to Dublin by 12 points in the first game has to be disregarded in light of Tipperary's subsequent surge where they won five-in-a-row, three without conceding a goal. Indeed, with the exception of the Cork game, where they conceded 4-21, their average giveaway against Galway, Clare, Kilkenny and Offaly was just over 17 points. Question is: which is the real Tipperary?
The misers from those games or the spendthrifts from the Cork clash? Ronan Maher, Michael Breen, John McGrath and Niall O'Meara have done well enough to increase O'Shea's options.
Which is currently ranked higher?
Tipperary are favourites 11/8 to win the League while Cork are on 21/20. That differential may be increased by the view that Tipperary, who play Waterford (1B winners) have a better chance of reaching the final than Cork, who face Dublin (3rd 1B).
Tipperary are second favourites (11/4) behind Kilkenny (5/2) to win the All-Ireland, with Cork in third place on 9/2. Odds apart, the general perception would be that Tipperary are ahead of Cork.
How did Cork and Tipperary fare against tomorrow's opponents in this year's League?
Cork beat Dublin by 0-34 to 1-20 on March 7. They led by 0-10 to 0-3 after 20 minutes and by 0-21 to 0-8 at half-time.
It was a remarkable Cork return in 35 minutes (three of the quarter-finals were won on a lower total), but in fairness to Dublin they battled back well after being hit with such a traumatic experience and narrowly won the second-half.
Small comfort, perhaps, but it's the second period that that Ger Cunningham will have emphasised to his players over the last few weeks. Besides, they stabilised quickly after that. Tipperary and Waterford were in different divisions to so this is their first League meeting of the season. Tipp won by three points last year.
Which would be most affected by defeat tomorrow?
Tipperary. Obviously, the championship is the big target but losing to Waterford, who were in 1B, would be a very disappointing finale to the League, which offers Tipp a great chance to boost their confidence reserves. After beating Dublin so well last month, a defeat would be a setback for Cork too but not as much as Tipperary.
What's their share of the national titles over the last ten seasons (2005-2014)?
They have won only three of 20 between them. Tipperary won the 2008 NHL and the 2010 All-Ireland. Cork won the 2005 All-Ireland.Kilkenny won 13 ( seven All-Ireland, six League) titles in the same period with the remaining four going to Waterford (2007 NHL), Galway (2010 NHL), Dublin 2011 (NHL), Clare (2013 All-Ireland).
How long since they last reached the League final in the same year?
Remarkably, it's 55 years. Tipperary beat Cork in the Cork Athletic Grounds by 2-15 to 3-3 on 1 May, 1960. Christy Ring scored 3-4 for Cork but Tipperary's greater all-round strength steered them to victory. The intensity of the Cork-Tipperary rivalry at the time was underlined by the fact that their three clashes in finals (Munster, League, Oireachtas) that year drew a combined attendance of 112,000. It's surprising that Cork and Tipperary have not met in the League final for so long. Nor have they met in the All-Ireland final, despite the introduction of the 'back door' system in 1997.