People will say there probably are bigger games because Cork and Kilkenny are just that small bit behind the eight ball at the moment. They’re off the pace a bit in terms of winning the All-Ireland. Wexford are Leinster champions, Limerick are Munster champions and people might still have Tipperary ahead of them too.
But for Cork and Kilkenny people, this is the biggest game. Once you get out of Munster, Kilkenny is the biggest game that you can play. Cork players always pride themselves on taking on Kilkenny and Kilkenny always pride themselves on taking on Cork. So, it’s a massive match for both sides.
This is different for Cork to the Munster rivalries. It’s raw and it’s unapologetic. It’s no-holds-barred stuff. Kilkenny would look at Cork and say, ‘they’re the aristocrats of hurling’. Cork, on the other hand, will believe Kilkenny are the same. It’s a huge clash of the two all-time leading McCarthy Cup holders.
Cork’s forward progress?
If you’re to be over-critical of Cork and you look throughout their Munster campaign, Cork have played with only two, or maybe three real forwards at a time – those being Patrick Horgan, Alan Cadogan and Seamus Harnedy. Harnedy contributing to a lesser degree than Horgan and Cadogan. So what about the other three?
You have Aidan Walsh, who is primarily a workhorse. He had one shot on target through to the Munster Championship campaign, which was his goal opportunity against Clare. Is he really operating as a forward and going to be a major threat?
Then there’s Daniel Kearney and Luke Meade, who are playing a similar type role to each other. They’re constantly going back to the Cork 45/50 metre area, receiving the ball and trying to play it further up the field. That’s fine, I understand the logic in it. They want two hard working half forwards. Guys who give them the ball and guys who are good on the ball.
But if they’re doing that, Cork need to revert to a type of attack where they have four scoring forwards. That means Conor Lehane and Shane Kingston must come into the team to be that fourth threat. To win an All-Ireland Cork will need five scoring forwards. To win an All-Ireland quarter-final, you might get away with having four.
Cork need guys who are dangerous. They need guys with scoring ability. Go back to last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, Cork played with a similar kind of system to now with three, possibly four forwards, at times on the higher end of the field. That’s where it kind of broke down, they struggled big time.
It’s an interesting one. It’s very rare that you’d see an addition to the management team in the middle of the Championship. But obviously, Cork’s manager sees a need to introduce someone like Tom Kenny into the equation. Whatever that reason is, let’s hope Tom can bring something that can be productive and that can be positive for Cork moving forward in the Championship.
I only know Tom personally. I don’t know him from a coaching perspective. He’s been with a couple of UCC teams, development squads and bits and pieces down through the years. I’m not 100 per cent sure of his coaching credentials, because I haven’t seen him at work. But, as a man, he’s a top-class guy. He’ll give everything to the bunch of lads he has in there. He was always giving it on the field, so I wouldn’t see him changing his style as a coach.
Tom is a clever, articulate guy. He knew how to maximise his own abilities as a player and how to maximise the guys who played around him. Hopefully, he’ll bring that positivity into the management set up.
Kilkenny’s nasty side
Kilkenny will know they have to improve after the Leinster final. Cork have to seriously improve after their Munster campaign. So, it will go down to the wire, it will be who wants it the most. It will be about how many individual battles will be won, can you as a player win your one-on-one contest. I think in this kind of a game, you’re going to have to win 10 out of 15 personal battles to win.
It’s like what Davy has in that Wexford team at the moment. Sometimes you have to look above the skill level. It’s all very fine to be skilful, but at times you just have to go to a place where you know you have to do anything to win.
Kilkenny can do that, they can be in your face, they can be tough and they can be nasty.
Cork are going to have to go to a dark place to match that. That’s the type of game it’s going to be. Both teams better be prepared for it.