Kilkenny can rediscover goal touch and drive to victory over Rebels
One drought ended this week and another could also be about to finish. Kilkenny and Cork go into tomorrow's All-Ireland hurling quarter-final with an unusually low goal-scoring record, which, on the law of averages, could be the cue for one or other – or possibly even both – to provide goalkeepers Anthony Nash and Eoin Murphy with a very busy afternoon.
Kilkenny have had their driest summer on the goal front in the Brian Cody era, scoring only two (one from a penalty) in five games, one of which went to extra-time. Cork have not scored a goal in any of their last three championship games (v Limerick and Clare this year and v Galway last August).
On that basis, tomorrow's clash will become a points shoot-out but, as often happens with unusual sequences, they end quite spectacularly. Given Kilkenny's overall power, they seem better equipped to re-programme the goal-finder, especially if they win more possession in the middle third.
Their half-forwards have had to drop deep in search of possession for much of the season which, in turn, drags the full-forward line further from goal than they would like. That hasn't been conducive to goal-scoring, an area where Kilkenny have majored traditionally.
Cork should have had a goal or two in the first half against Limerick in the Munster final but missed the opportunities, a malaise which also spread to their attempts for points. It left them level at half-time, when they should have been comfortably ahead. And with Patrick Horgan sent off, they were facing a challenge which was always likely to prove beyond them.
Losing by nine points may have lowered their stature in the eyes of the broader hurling world but it won't have damaged their own self-belief very much. After all, they had the perfectly valid excuse that they were without their captain and free-taker for 35 minutes. Compared with Galway's defeat by Dublin in the Leinster final, Cork were positively heroic, yet the Tribesmen are favourites to beat Clare tomorrow.
Cork will be encouraged by their league performance against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park in March where they lost by two points after leading by a goal in the third quarter. As in the Munster final, they should have been much further ahead, but were let down by poor shooting, especially in the first half.
Still, Cork's pace and passing troubled Kilkenny that day and since they are now more advanced as a unit, they will be hoping to get that type of game going again, only this time backed up by more accurate finishing.
Cork's big challenge will be to make more progress against the Kilkenny defence than Tipperary or Waterford did. Tipperary made some goal chances, but didn't take them, while a lot of Waterford's scores came from long range.
Seamus Harnedy has been a real find for Cork this year, but he will be up against a meaner defence than he encountered in Munster, while the rest of the Leeside attack will also need to be ready for their biggest test so far.
Kilkenny's relentless drive was hugely important in relaunching their All-Ireland bid, via the qualifiers, and while they have yet to find the fluency of previous years, they remain the proven experts when it comes to grinding out wins.
The manner in which they recovered immediately after Waterford rocked them late in normal time and again in the second period of extra-time proved conclusively that their resolve is, if anything, even harder than before.
That, plus the hunch that their goal tally could be set for a boost, suggests that they will check-in for a semi-final date with Dublin or Limerick.
Cork– A Nash; S O'Neill, S McDonnell, C O'Sullivan; T Kenny, C Joyce, W Egan; L McLoughlin, D Kearney; C Lehane, S Harnedy, P Cronin; L O'Farrell, P Horgan, J Coughlan.
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 v Kilkenny
Live, RTE2, tomorrow, 2.0