Rebels are well behind rest of pack, says Bill Cooper
Poor results justify Cork's status as Munster title outsiders, according to attacking star
Cork must accept that their position as 8/1 outsiders for the Munster hurling championship is a reflection of their form over the last 12 months, their industrious attacker Bill Cooper has acknowledged.
The Rebels, champions in the province two years ago, trail behind the other four counties, after a dismal end to last year's championship was followed up by an equally poor league that saw them lose all five regulation games before they survived with a surprise win over Galway in their relegation play-off in Salthill.
"People are talking about the counties they're talking about with good reason. We haven't shown - we've been well behind the rest of the leading pack. We are where we are because of how we've been performing," he said.
"It's a bit of everything - other counties have improved and we probably still have some developing to do, I'm not sure if it's one particular thing."
The Youghal man, who has refloated his career over the last two seasons after a debilitating back injury, accepts it can be a challenge to block out the negativity that Cork GAA appears to be attracting in recent years.
"Possibly (it is) but everyone deals with it in their own way. I wouldn't read too much into it, I just think we're concentrating on ourselves.
"We know we have strengths in the group too, we're not doom and gloom by any means. We have a tough task ahead of us but we'll be looking to give a performance."
Winning in Galway has given them a badly-needed shot of confidence.
"We know we're a long way behind the Tipperarys and the Kilkennys, Waterford, the other teams. But we got confidence from (Galway). It was a do-or-die game, so we got a little bit out of that."
Meanwhile, Tipperary's All-Ireland-winning manager in 2010, Liam Sheedy, feels Cork have "no chance" in Thurles if they concede goals like they have been conceding.
Cork conceded nine goals in their five-match Division 1A programme, a total of 9-118 the highest concession by any team across the same programme of games in the five years since the hurling league changed to six-team groups.
But significantly they didn't concede any goal in their relegation play-off against Galway.
"Beating Galway was a big result for Cork, and the key thing was they didn't concede any goals on the day," said Sheedy, speaking at RTE's Championship launch.
But he still hasn't seen enough to convince him that they have turned the corner.
"If they concede goals in Thurles they have no chance. I'm like a broken record at this stage, but I've seen nothing from them defensively in the last 18 months to tell me they'll have it right for Semple Stadium.
"If they do they'll be a real threat, because in Seamus Harnedy, Patrick Horgan and Conor Lehane, they have real quality up front. They'll score, and they'll score as much as other teams, but the other teams will win matches. I'm not so sure they'll keep the scoreboard down at the other end.
"They need to do something because defensively they had no structure for the last few years. Maybe 2016 is the year we'll see a team adapt to the sweeper and bang in three goals. That'll create a whole new dynamic."
Sheedy believes management were right to "shake up" the panel by dropping a number of established names.
"I think it needed it. The fact that they were big names - Pa Cronin is someone you could see with a role on the edge of the square from time to time. Paudie O'Sullivan opted out but I saw him as an exceptional minor in 2006.
"He just hasn't really come through. I thought he was one of the best minors I'd seen, and in Ennis for Munster when I was with them, he got a point one day that you'd pay in to see. I don't know what broke down there because he's top class. It's a changing of the guard, but for some of those players, their race was run at this stage. You have to find new blood, that's the challenge."
Sheedy feels the gap between Kilkenny and the chasing pack is the closest it has ever been.
"Tipperary and Clare are best positioned (to challenge). Clare have serious talent coming through, making a league final without David McInerney and John Conlon. They have a serious squad.
"Waterford have a serious threat if they can get their attacking options right. No-one would question the talent in the Tipperary forward line, the likes of John O'Dwyer and Seamus Callanan, these guys.
"Noel McGrath is back in. The gap between the top team and the pack is the closest it's ever been."