Sunday 25 August 2019

No quarter asked or given against Cats

All-Ireland SHC quarter-final: Cork v Kilkenny, Sunday July 14, Croke Park, Dublin, Throw-in 2pm

Cork’s Conor Lehane in action against Michael Cody and Paddy Deegan of Kilkenny
Cork’s Conor Lehane in action against Michael Cody and Paddy Deegan of Kilkenny

Diarmuid Sheehan

Cork's senior hurlers will go in search of yet another All-Ireland semi-final place this Sunday with the small matter of Kilkenny's famous black and amber standing in their way.

Cork have been impressive in spots this season with the hugely impressive win over Limerick at The Gaelic Grounds the high point while a drubbing at the hands of Tipperary a reality check for a side that came into the Munster Championship looking to bag their third provincial title on the bounce.

Now, with that title lost to the Shannonsiders, Cork face the old enemy for a place in the last four and the stakes couldn't be higher for all concerned.

John Meyler's charges have been making progress in recent years but consistency seems to be the big unknown for a side that look hugely impressive on their day but have the potential to fall flat when least expected. This weekend however the blood and Bandage will need to be at their best otherwise the Cats will see them off.

Last weekend after beating Westmeath Cork keeper Anthony Nash stayed late on the pitch signing autographs for young fans but his attention had already turned to what is a huge game for himself and his teammates.

"Today, it was a professional performance. The thing about coming up here is if you let Westmeath get a good start you are in trouble. They are a good hurling side. We looked a lot into them before this game and they have some fantastic hurlers like Killian Doyle and we knew that coming up so really, we had done our homework and needed to concentrate on ourselves.

"You have fellas fighting for places in this squad - you have the boys on the team don't want to get off it and those coming in want to put in a performance and thanks to that attitude thankfully it went our way again today.

"It was a tough physical game today, some of the hits out there were massive. It was great for us as we have a lot of learnings to take from this today and plenty to work on and we know Kilkenny will obviously bring a different set of questions - and with such a short turnaround we just have to get down the road and get into recovery.

"It is real business now when you head up to Croke Park and the fact that it is Kilkenny, Cork and Kilkenny always throw up a cracking game - I am sure they were up having a look at us today and they know all about us. No matter what the situation when it is a Cork v Kilkenny game it is all about tradition. It always throws up a good game.

"The fact that we have played each other already a few times this year means that we know each other well but it being in Croke park just brings another dimension to that. It is great to be able to play a game in Croke Park. Whether it is quarter final, semi-final or final and we will enjoy that experience. Today in Mullingar was a good work out for us but we are going up a good few levels to the likes of Kilkenny."

Nash is spot on in all that he says. Kilkenny will be a huge step up, they most certainly have their work done and these gams do take on a life of their own.

Players like Darragh Fitzgibbon, Bill Cooper and Patrick Horgan are having really impressive season's while there has been some solidity put into a backline that leaked like a sieve last Summer. The introduction of Eoin Cadogan at full back has helped in that regard while his brother Alan is doing wreck at the other end of the field.

This year we haven't seen the best of Seamus Harnedy yet with Shane Kingston another that is likely to cause problems for whatever opposition he faces.

Blarney's Mark Coleman has been really solid going forward and back while the man charged with keeping the ball out of the cork net is another that has had a pretty solid year.

For Kilkenny, TJ Reid will perform again this weekend after bagging 12 points against Wexford in the Leinster Final.

Colin Fennelly is another that could cause major damage if not dealt with but Reid is the star man for Kilkenny and the one that keeps this side ticking over, even when the pressure comes on.

Cork will face Kilkenny in good shape. The win over Westmeath was clinical, however the conceding of 20 points to a minnow may raise some eyebrows. Cork look to be progressing in a way that has structure and planning. A couple of provincial crowns and all Ireland semi-final spots have been their lot in recent years but now, this year, people want more. They want to see if this bunch of intercounty stars have what it takes to progress to the next level and win the long overdue Holy Grail.

Cork have all the attributes required to win this Sunday and perhaps even put an end to the career of Brian Cody but realistically they would settle for a one point win and a berth against the All Ireland Champions in a few weeks' time.

Prediction: Cork by four