Tuesday 12 December 2017

Murphy's faith in young Rebels

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

This is it, the difference between a decent season and one to forget.

All-Ireland quarter-finals in hurling have that sense of destiny about them. They make or break a season.

For Cork to return to an All-Ireland semi-final would represent progress in the project to reconstruct the team and build for the future.

But it would also bring to an end a sequence that has to be nagging in the back of the minds of just about everyone with a connection to Cork hurling.

That they have failed to beat Waterford in any of their last five championship attempts has to be a record as uncomfortable as the absence of a Munster title itself over the same period of time.

rivalry

Not since 2006 have Cork won a Munster hurling title. Not since 2006 have they enjoyed a championship victory over Waterford.

Their rivalry over the last decade is perhaps the most common in hurling, and Waterford have the edge over this period too.

Since 2002 they have only failed to meet in three championships -- in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Sunday's curtain-raiser in Thurles will be the 12th meeting between the sides in the last 10 years, including the 2002 Munster semi-final which was a landmark success for Waterford.

The record in those 11 games narrowly favours Waterford with victories in the 2004 and 2010 (after a replay) Munster finals, that 2002 success, and the Munster semi-final and All-Ireland quarter-final replay in 2007.

Cork won a Munster final in 2003 and Munster semi-finals in 2005 and 2006, as well as the 2006 All-Ireland semi- final between the sides in Croke Park. Two of the 11 matches, the 2010 Munster final and the 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final, have been drawn.

Not only are some of the Cork hurlers too young to have featured in the last championship match against Waterford, they might have some difficulty vividly recalling the finer points of the genesis of the rivalry these counties have built up over the last decade.

That says much about the profile of the team that Jimmy Barry-Murphy has been busy constructing over the last few months, with 19-year-olds like Damien Cahalane, Conor Lehane and Darren Sweetnam all given championship exposure.

But for Brian Murphy, one of the most experienced players to have survived the makeover, Waterford's supremacy is not something to dwell too much on.

"We have a very different team now compared to a few years ago -- a lot of the younger lads wouldn't have even played against them," he says.

Like Clare, Galway and Limerick, the average age of the Cork team has dipped considerably over the last 12 months with the retirement of Ben O'Connor, the injury to Donal Og Cusack and the failure of Sean Og O hAilpin and John Gardiner to make the cut on a consistent basis any more.

Murphy, Tom Kenny and Niall MacCarthy are all 30 or over, with goalkeeper Anthony Nash and Shane O'Neill the only other players over the age of 25.

At just under 24.5 (the average age of the 15 that started against Waterford the last day), it is similar to the age profile of the Tipperary team that landed the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2010.

And Murphy believes that the future is bright for the Cork youngsters, even if he admits it unlikely that he will be around to share it with them.

"I've hit the 30 mark and this year, next year -- that's probably the end of the road for me. I have to try to make the most of it. When you're 21, 22, and people are telling you, 'make the most of it, it won't last that long', at the back of your mind you're probably laughing at them.

"Thankfully, we've a good crop of young lads coming through who may be putting us in a better position than the one we've been in for the last few years.

"We have to see what happens against Waterford.

"They've got an experienced team and we're no fools, we don't think that it's going to be easy. They'll be firm favourites on the day, but we'll just have to take it on."

Irish Independent

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