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All roads lead to Croke Park

Wednesday, 9th August, 2017 4:38pm

Finbarr McCarthy

“Well it’s a great occasion to be involved in, but for us the task is to win and get to the final.”

The words of Cork manager Kieran Kingston looking ahead to Sunday’s All-Ireland Hurling semi-final against Waterford.

It's not not the first time the sides will have faced each other in an All-Ireland semi-final, who will ever forget the epic battle in 2005 which Cork won by one point? Given the way the championship is structured now, the prospect of playing a team you have already met was always likely to happen but the manager is unfazed.

“With three of the four teams from Munster in the semis this was something we were conscious of," says Kingston, "but in reality it was outside our control. Once the draw was made we focused on the fixture and that has been the way we have operated all season.”

Inevitably the Tadhg de Burca case came up, with a diplomatic reply from Kingston: “I was at the game but did not see it, again it is outside our control. If he plays, he plays; if not I am sure Waterford will have planned for that, but again, nothing to do with us.”

The other big issue for Cork is the five week gap between the Munster Final and Sunday's match. “We have managed as best we can, we did not alter our routine from previous games. The players went back to their clubs, some played in championship games and then we had a three week run-in and everything is going to plan,” says Kingston.

It will be the fourth meeting of the teams this year and Cork have won the previous three, so they will certainly be familiar with one another, a fact the manager acknowledged. “We know how they play but no more than they know our style. In fact it’s well known Waterford play several varying systems within every game, and while we will plan for them, we basically concentrate on getting our own game right and then see what develops.”

The style of play that Cork have produced has been well received, a fact that pleases Kingston. “We play to our strengths, especially in attack, and we have good fast forwards. If they get good quick ball, they can trouble any defence, while our own defenders have been brilliant all year.”

Records show that it is very hard to beat the same team twice in the championship and many feel, with the games they have played in recent weeks, Waterford will be much better than they were in the Munster semi-final.

That may very well be the case but Cork are also in a better position, going in as Munster champions will give them confidence, and whatever about the records, Cork will feel they are well equipped even with an improved Waterford.

In Thurles many of Derek McGrath's squad were below par and missed chances they would normally get, but a lot of that was down to the workrate of all the Cork players applying pressure in all areas of the field, something they must replicate again.

Kevin Moran, Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, Noel Connors, Jamie Barron, Pauric Mahony, the Bennetts and Maurice Shanahan remain key players for a Waterford side, that on their day, can be a match for the best.

Cork are unlikely to alter their team. Luke Meade looks set to play, and interestingly the defence has remained intact for all three games, not one player has been substituted, and that is a mark of their consistency and a repeat performance will certainly go along way to winning the match.

Behind that unit, Anthony Nash has been at his very best, not only in his stopping, but his clever and accurate distribution have been crucial and excellent.

Bill Cooper is a vital cog in midfield, while the attack has seen different players at different stages of the games deliver the vital scores. Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan have been remarkably consistent while Conor Lehane and Alan Cadogan have produced big displays when needed most.

The bench has also been crucial to Cork including, among others, Michael Cahalane, Luke O’Farrell and Lorcan McLoughlin who all made important contributions, they will have a role to play on Sunday.

A feature of Cork’s play has also been their refusal to panic. In all three wins the opposition scored what appeared to be game changing scores but Cork responded with a score of their own, a sign of a team playing with confidence.

Cork’s last visit to a semi-final as Munster champions in 2014 ended in a heavy defeat to Tipperary. This time they look better equipped to handle the five week gap and the occasion and should win, but only with a consistent 70 minutes to match the best they have produced all season.

Minor Semi-Final

For the second week in a row, several players that featured in the Under 17 final will meet again as Cork and Dublin renew their rivalry, with Galway awaiting the winners in the final.

Cork have been very impressive in the campaign to date, and while there is a doubt about Evan Sheehan’s fitness, there is enough quality in the side to win, what will in all probability be, another physical contest.

Sean O’Leary Hayes, Craig Hannifin, Robert Downey, the Roche twins Eoin and Brian, Daire Connery and Conor O’Callaghan should have enough quality and skill to see off what is sure to be a determined Dublin challenge.

County championships

In football, Seandun and Carrigaline meet in Páirc Uí Rinn on Friday at 7.30pm and the better prepared club side might just edge this although Seandun can call on some very good players.

Cloughduv on the same night, also at 7.30pm, is the venue for what is potentially a cracking contest between Muskerry and Ballincollig. Big players on both sides, Fintan Goold, Daniel Goulding and Liam Shorten for Muskerry, while Paddy Kelly, Noel Galvin, Sean Kiely are in action for the champions of 2015, who might just shade this one.

The action switches to Macroom on Saturday at 7pm for the clash of Ilen Rovers and Avondhu, who could be without James Loughrey, but will have Tom Clancy and Colm O’Neill and that experience and strength in depth will probably see them overcome a youthful Ilen outfit.

In hurling, Bishopstown, fresh from their win over Ballyhea on Monday, are back in action on Saturday when they face Ballymartle in Pairc Ui Rinn at 7.30pm and that match gives them a big advantage although there is a doubt about the fitness of Patriack Cronin and he will be a loss, but they can still call on Ken O’Halloran, Diarmuid Lester and Shane O’Neill, while Ballymartle will look to Darren McCarthy and the Dwyers along with Seamus and Brian Corry.

The south-east side are among the most consistent teams in the championship but their inactivity might just come against them this time round.

There are three games in the Intermediate Football Championship where Rockchapel should be to strong for Glanmire, Gabriel Rangers will be too good for Clonakilty’s second team, while even Donnacha O’Connor’s presence might not be enough for Ballydesmond in their clash with Glenville.

Camogie

Two big games for Cork teams on Saturday in the Gaelic Grounds Limerick; in the Under 16 All-Ireland semi-final Galway are bidding for a third title on the trot and will present the young Cork girls with a formidable challenge. In the Intermediate Championship, Cork entertain Down in their final group game where a win will secure a semi-final spot.

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