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Cork to retain title in Thurles

Wednesday, 27th June, 2018 4:23pm

At the conclusion of the round-robin format, only two teams remain unbeaten, Galway in Leinster and Cork in Munster.

Yet all the talk since, has been about teams elsewhere - first of all Limerick who were hammered by Clare and focus then switched to Clare for recovering from their first round loss to Cork and then to Waterford for the bravery shown against Cork and, of course, the so-called ‘phantom goal’ scored against them by Tipperary.

Cork have been virtually ignored. In fact one scribe suggested in an article that the reason Clare lost the final last year in Thurles was because their supporters did not turn up.

Talk about writing a team off just as the championship gets even more serious. I am sure though, that John Meyler and his backroom team are not unduly concerned as they focus on the task ahead.

There are two points I would concur with; Clare have improved and will really make it a cracking Munster Final, and Cork need to erase the errors that has seen them cough up some silly points.

But to dismiss them out of hand is ridiculous.

The race for the Liam McCarthy has really opened up - the elimination of Tipperary and Waterford has seen to that - and while Galway are still favourites, and rightly so, anyone of the remaining counties are capable of winning that race. Especially Cork.

Sunday’s final has all the makings of a cracker and John Meyler is looking forward to it. “It’s what Cork hurling is all about and the support this team has got, and is getting, is immense.”

John is delighted with the progress to date: “We are very happy, initially we wanted to be one of the three teams to make it out of the round robin format and once that was done, getting to the final was our next objective, so we are where we want to be.”

The manager did acknowledge that there a few areas that we can improve on.

One pleasing aspect is the composure and the manner in which Cork are finishing games, he says. “That is a sign of maturity, even if we have some young players, but there has been no panic and in the last game winning the way we did was special.”

On Clare, John is only well aware of the challenge they present, and the game a few weeks back in the Páirc will have little bearing.

“Clare have been excellent and we will have to be at our best to retain the title which is what we set out to do at the start of the campaign, they have quality all over the field, including All-Ireland winners, but we're happy with our work over the last few weeks and are ready to give it our best shot.”

It’s been a busy few weeks for the Cahalane family with three members, Conor, Jack and Damien, all lining out with Cork in various championship games, a nice little record as Damien agreed.

“Yeah if you told my dad Niall 20 years ago that three of his sons would play hurling rather than football with Cork, he would have laughed, but look it’s been great, and at least Conor has another day out with the Under 21s!”

As for Damien, he is looking forward to the final and pleased at the way the recent games have panned out, especially in defence. “It’s been very good, as a unit we have played well but we have all bailed others out when things have got a bit sticky.”

The St Finbarr’s man knows full well that the Clare attack is a threat. “That was evident in the first game, and they have a tendency to go for goals, so we will need to be at our best to stop them and, as a unit, I think we can.”

Damien also agreed that they have made a few errors in recent games: “That is going to happen but they are all fixable and we have been working hard in training to iron out these problems.”

Clare go into the game on the back of three wins on the bounce and that is bound to have them in a confident mood and also determined to end a long losing sequence to Cork in the championship - their last win was the 2013 All-Ireland Final replay.

They were very impressive in dismissing Limerick, even if it was in the tight confines of Cusack Park, but beating Tipperary in Thurles really set them up.

Defensively they are solid; Donal Touhy is an excellent goalkeeper with David McInerney, Conor Cleary and Seadna Morey all good operators.

Tony Kelly is back to his best, David Reidy has been cleared to play, Peter Duggan is unerring from placed balls, while Podge Collins and Conor Cleary are a handful in attack.

Cork are unlikely to make many changes. If Mark Ellis is fit, he will start, and the defence on its day can contain any attack. Colm Spillane has been a model of consistency, Chris Joyce was excellent against Waterford, while Mark Coleman is still one of the best at what he does and his ability to hit long range points is an added bonus.

Cooper and Fitzgibbon are a solid and effective midfield pairing but up front the one concern is that a number of players have yet to hit their best form.

Patrick Horgan and Seamus Harnedy have been the most consistent, Shane Kingston seems to be coming good, while there is a lot more needed from Conor Lehane.

The day all six forwards hit top form they will be unstoppable, maybe Sunday will be that day.

Clare will start as favourites, and probably with some justification given recent results, but Cork have shown what is required to win at this level and are the champions, a title they want to hold on to.

Cork have had a few areas of concern in all their games, some of their own making, fix them and they will be difficult to beat.

It will take a huge effort from all to see off Clare but the desire to take the shortened route to Croke Park is as strong as ever. Close one, but Cork to shade it.

Last Saturday night did not go to plan and I have no doubt the players and management did not see that coming and Ronan McCarthy was honest in his assessment afterwards.

It is two weeks to the next game - win that and they are into the Super 8s and that, contrary to the views of some, would be of huge benefit to the development of the team.

It's far better to be playing in three big games than sitting at home watching them and learning very little.

They will know their fate on Monday morning.

Before that, the Under 20s head to Tralee on Friday night for the Munster Final against, what we are led to believe, is another star-studded Kerry team.

Cork were none too impressive in their semi-final win over Clare and the management were not slow in letting the players know that a repeat will not be good enough in Tralee.

It has all the hallmarks of another Kerry win.

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