Sunday 19 January 2020

Win would be nice, not necessary

Munster SHL Final: Limerick v Cork, Saturday January 11, The Gaelic Grounds, 7.30pm

Cork manager Kieran Kingston prior to the Coop Superstores Munster Hurling League 2020
Group B match between Waterford and Cork at Fraher Field in Dungarvan. Photo by Eóin Noonan / Sportsfile
Cork manager Kieran Kingston prior to the Coop Superstores Munster Hurling League 2020 Group B match between Waterford and Cork at Fraher Field in Dungarvan. Photo by Eóin Noonan / Sportsfile

Dennis Hurley

Opener for ten - who won last year's Co-Op Superstores Munster Hurling League?

Don't feel bad if you didn't know, for we had to look it up ourselves. It was Clare, by the way, the county completing a double along with the McGrath Cup, though it didn't prevent them from crashing out of the Munster championship with a fourth-placed finish.

Pre-season competitions are just that, designed to provide game-time as established players seek fitness and young pretenders put forward their claims for advancement. You might win and you might not, but that doesn't matter - if you do, there's no big homecoming or a trip around the schools. It's simply a means to an end, with the key benefit of playing the final being a bridging of the gap to the start of the national league at the end of the month.

If you were looking for omens, you'd take solace in the fact that Cork's only time to win the competition was away to Limerick in 2017 - oddly, the county never came out on top in its precursor, the Waterford Crystal Cup - but, win or lose on Saturday night, Cork manager Kieran Kingston can take positives from his first few weeks back in charge.

In the group-stage wins over Kerry and Waterford, 28 different players were used while another eight made their season bows in Tuesday night's one-point loss in the Canon O'Brien Cup against a UCC team that had a few Cork stars in its ranks.

Kingston answers the question as to whether there will be further additions to the panel elsewhere on this page, but of those blooded, it's likely we will see more of Courcey Rovers' Seán Twomey, whose long-range point-taking was a feature of his performances against Kerry and Waterford, while Ryan Walsh of Kanturk has done enough to suggest he will be given a chance to show his wares at midfield on a bigger stage.

Dromtarriffe's Conor O'Callaghan, fresh from last year's Under 20 campaign, may find the traffic heavy in the battle for defensive places this year, but he will nevertheless benefit from being around the panel while another of that intake, Midleton's Tommy O'Connell, could slot straight into contention in attack.

It's unlikely that Kingston and his management team of Diarmuid O'Sullivan, Ger Cunningham and Pat Mulcahy ever considered making wholesale changes to the panel - while last year was disappointing, with three defeats in six championship games, it didn't mean that Cork had become a bad team overnight.

The previous two seasons give a better indication of Cork's standing - close to an All-Ireland, but in need of a few positive tweaks as well as building a deeper squad. Kingston and his backroom and ancillary staff will be well aware of the task and winning or losing on Saturday won't change that to any great degree.

Nevertheless, winning is a habit and the players on the fringes will want to show that they can be relied upon on bigger occasions. Doing well here would be a good start.

Kingston pleased with games even if Fitzgibbon causes certain problems

Cork hurling manager Kieran Kingston expects a tough test from Limerick in Saturday night's Co-Op Superstores Munster HL final at the LIT Gaelic Grounds (7.30pm).

Wins over Kerry and Waterford have earned Cork a spot in the decider - which will go straight to penalties if level at the end of 70 minutes - and Kingston is happy that the challenge will be a good step up compared to what the team has faced to date.

"Limerick are going well in this competition and they're trying out a lot of players too," he says.

"They have a nice blend and they wouldn't have the same numbers involved with the colleges as we would, we have a very young squad. They're going well, so it's a much bigger challenge than we've faced, but it gives these lads the chance to play at another level, which is good for their development.

"It goes up another notch for the league and then again for the championship. This time of year, the game is slower and the ball is dead, it's a very different game in some ways."

Back in charge after two years away, overall Kingston has been encouraged by what he has seen.

"In the main, we have been pleased," he says.

"Training has gone well and the reaction of the lads has been good, training this time of year is winter training. We were happy with the Kerry and Waterford games, but we were disappointed with how we did against UCC on Tuesday night [O'Brien Cup].

"I know a lot of our players were playing with them and whatever, but at the same time I thought our performance wasn't at the level it should have been. Overall, the extra games we've been getting give us an opportunity to get game-time into senior players.

"Cork have been out of the championship since July and some of them are out of the club championship since around then too, so they need games. Secondly, you need to get young lads accustomed to senior inter-county, which is very different to underage, especially with Under 20, the gap to senior is bigger now.

"It's helping us to give them senior games, which is great."

One complication this weekend is the fact that the Fitzgibbon Cup commences on Sunday, meaning that the Kingston is shorn of the services of a number of players.

"We have 21 guys involved with college hurling," he says, "and that's a huge challenge for us this weekend.

"We're playing Limerick on Saturday night and the Fitzgibbon Cup starts on Sunday, so none of those players are available to us, which isn't ideal. It's an opportunity to see other players, though.

"Two players on our panel, Deccie Dalton and Ger Millerick, are still involved with Fr O'Neills and we have a few out with long-term injuries, such as Christopher Joyce, Mark Ellis, Robert Downey, Stephen McDonnell and Alan Cadogan.

"We haven't had an opportunity to get game-time into them yet but at least we have Colm Spillane back after a long time out."