The Season Ticket
GAA | All-Ireland hurling final preview
If there is a bounce in the step of Cork folk this week, it’s understandable.
Suddenly, there is a treble bid on the table.
Thursday’s under-20 victory over Galway was a performance of control and swagger. The two teams meet again, at minor level, in the All-Ireland final, on Saturday evening.
Then, it’s the big one on Sunday. Cork and Limerick.
If Cork feel they are due one, they only need to look at Limerick’s own wait from 1973 to 2018, which makes Cork's own hiatus since a Seán Óg Ó hAilpín inspired win in 2005 diminish into insignificance of an unintelligible nature.
Reality may bite, but for Limerick manager John Kiely and his Cork counterpart, Kieran Kingston, it’s a backdrop of noise that doesn’t merit deliberation. Kingston’s concerns could well lie in the continuous resurfacing of thoughts of the hulking Limerick forward-line, and whether his side's defence will be able to match their physicality.
Kiely could wonder if his side can cope with the pace that runs throughout this Cork side. How best to close space and limit the opportunities of the likes of Robbie O’Flynn, Seán O’Donoghue or Darragh Fitzgibbon? Both camps will have concerns, but neither team have been built on a platform of fear of failure. Cork and Limerick have had long-term investment and restructuring in place. The argument could be made that Limerick’s has been longer held, but then again, they have had further to come back from.
Kiely will look again to the likes of Peter Casey, Gearoid Hegarty and Aaron Gillane to connect and punish any free ball that arises. It will be about getting seamless ball to his forwards in the first place, and that will be underpinned by retention at speed and in short, sharp bursts.
Defence is an area that Limerick have continued to work hard on, and in addition to the technical approach, fitness and strength and conditioning under the guidance of Mikey Kiely is something that his namesake is willing to delegate. Knowing Mikey Kiely is laden with the right kind of experience in that area, he has let him do what he does best, and the result is the freshness that persists since the return of collective training in April and the quick arrival of a compact league campaign.
Paul Kinnerk, another lynchpin in his coaching team, is a private, thoughtful former inter-county footballer, who has been involved in six All-Ireland successes; dove-tailing his own game with involvement with Clare Under-21 hurlers, and their well-heeled prosperity on the pitch.
A principle-based approach, some of which is controlling the best way to crowd space and minimise the time that opposition teams have to make decisions. Communicative, he also knows how to push players. It’s hard to think past Limerick being in control of their decision making on Sunday.
But that is where Kingston comes in. In his second spell in charge, Kingston is acutely aware. Aside from the likes of Patrick Horgan and Seamus Harnedy, this is a young Cork team. O’Donoghue, in fact, at 25, is one of the older guaranteed starters.
Youth and pace do not always mean fearlessness.
However, with Cork, there is a wanton desire to run at defences. Debate continues as to whether Kingston should start his son, Shane.
The likes of Darragh O’Donovan in midfield for Limerick, won’t need reminding of the threat Shane Kingston brings, and along with Will O’Donoghue will be inherently linked in protecting their half-back line. His seven points against Kilkenny in the semi-final was both remarkable and imposing. Jack O'Connor was suddenly infected with the same fearless bug.
The thought of Kingston running at pace, switching sides, being an all-round powerhouse against Limerick and from the start, is a thrilling prospect. So is another introduction from the bench. You would think Limerick, however, will have studiously catered for both scenarios.
It is a big week for Cork and so far, there is quite a bit to be giddy about. On Sunday afternoon, the nerves will come with its own inevitability, and it will come down to various facets. Technique, space, athleticism, tactics.
The margins of difference are there though.
And Limerick should have just about enough to retain the Liam MacCarthy trophy.