Hurlers back at Croker
It’s been an unusual two years in terms of sport but it’s great to be heading back to Croke Park for an All-Ireland semi-final in the summer months and with 24,000 supporters in attendance and if Thurles is anything to go by, the majority will be in red and white.
Cork manager Kieran Kingston had mixed feelings after the win over Dublin.
“Obviously delighted with the win and heading back to the All-Ireland semi-final, but disappointed with a few aspects of our game, especially in the second half we got sloppy and allowed Dublin hang in, but we won and we can work on those things during the week.”
Kilkenny will provide the sternest of test. “They are favourites and rightly so; they have had a three week break but that is something we will deal with.”
As for playing in Croke Park, “well it’s a home venue for Kilkenny. Just like we enjoy Thurles, they love Croke Park, but it’s where you want to be and when you are there it means you are at the business end of the championship which is exactly where you want to be.”
It will be the third game in 15 days and that is a slight concern. “While there are a few knocks and bruises, nothing is really an issue and we will be ready and looking forward to what is going to be a huge game for this team.”
Kilkenny boss Brian Cody was in Thurles last Saturday and no doubt will have seen enough to know that they face a Cork side in confident mood right now, but also certain that they have the players to derail Cork’s ambitions.
Back to back Leinster titles would suggest that the Cats are purring again and while Cody places great value in winning the provincial crown, he knows that the bigger prize is what their supporters crave.
Wins over Wexford and Dublin - who were hit with Covid issues 24 hours before the final - were achieved with mixed displays but in the three week run in to this game, you can be certain that the wily Cody will have worked hard in training to improve.
It’s a first championship meeting between the sides since the 2019 Quarter-Final, which Kilkenny won on a day that current captain Patrick Horgan got 3-10 of Cork’s total of 3-18.
TJ Reid remains their most effective player in attack and will get excellent support from Eoin Cody and Martin Keoghan, while interestingly Walter Walsh is mostly used as a substitute, while Richie Hogan has yet to feature in the championship.
Midfield has been a problem and both Adrian Mullen and Richie Reid were replaced during the Leinster Final.
Conor Browne is a doubt in defence where Huw Lawlor and Paddy Deegan have been immense, with Jame Maher and Tommy Walsh as dependable as ever.
What you will get from Kilkenny is a real 70 plus minutes performance, so Cork will need to be at their very best to win.
Cork are unlikely to alter the starting 15 from Thurles for this game; while not perfect, it was enough to suggest the graph is rising.
Patrick Collins made an early and vital save, while the variation and quality of his puckouts produce some nice scores.
Robert Downey was excellent at full back, again, while O’Donoghue, O’Leary - who hit a crucial point and Tim O’Mahoney who got 1-1, all excelled.
The match ups here will be vital and who picks up who could shape the contest.
Luke Meade and Darragh Fitzgibbon have formed an effective midfield pairing, but you feel there is more to come from the latter, equally from Coleman in defence.
Patrick Horgan remains the key man in attack, Harnedy has been excellent in the last two games, O’Flynn works so hard for those around him and chips in with scores as well, and O’Connor’s pace is a huge asset and that might just blossom on HQ.
Shane Kingston has got a goal in the last three games, but has not hit the heights he is capable of - will that happen on Sunday?
The bench has proved vital and the impact that Alan Connolly and Shane Barrett have made must tempt the selectors to start one or both, but it is likely they will be held in reserve once again.
It’s an intriguing contest, Kilkenny are justifiably rated as favourites, and while the third game in as many weeks might be a factor, Cork are coming in with momentum and confidence and a belief that they can win. It’s a belief I agree with and Cork to shade it and set up an all Munster All-Ireland Final in a few weeks time.
The other semi-final Limerick v Waterford is equally fascinating but the odds favour the champions making it back to the decider.
Minors chase double
In the space of 72 hours Cork will bid to complete the Munster Minor Championship double - a feat last achieved in 2000, and the odds are stacked in their favour to do so, but the Waterford hurlers and Limerick footballers will have something to say about that.
The hurlers are first up on Monday night and given the manner in which they dismissed both Clare and Waterford it is easy to agree with the favourites tag.
Ben O’Connor, Darragh O’Sullivan and Timmy Wilk anchor a solid defence while up front Jack Leahy, Eoin O’Leary and Diarmuid Healy certainly know where the posts are.
Waterford were deserving winners over a youthful Tipp side in the other semi-final but the overall strength and balance of this exceptional team look good enough to give Cork the win.
The winners go direct to the All-Ireland Final where they play either Kilkenny or Galway.
On Wednesday Cork face Limerick in the football final following a dramatic one point win over nine in a row seeking Kerry last Friday night.
Cork played excellent football but a few strange refereeing decisions made for a nervy finish but to be fair, they were deserving winners.
They’ve lots of quality all over the field; Rory O’Shaughnessey and Michael McSweeney are a formidable midfield pairing while up front Jamie O’Driscoll, Hugh O’Connor and Niall Kelly showed enough class and scoring prowess to set up the victory and a place in All-Ireland semi-final.
Semple Stadium is the venue for both games with a 7.30pm start.
2020 county finals
It’s a super Saturday of three county finals as efforts to complete the 2020 championships continue.
First up in Páirc Uí Rinn at 3pm are the junior hurlers of Lisgoold and Harbour Rovers with the latter shown good from in recent weeks with Stephen Condon their key player.
Lisgoold though are slight favourites and with John and Ciaran Cronin, the Cashman brothers John and Ciaran along with former Cork minor Cathal Hickey leading their challenge, they get the vote.
The junior football decider goes ahead in Mallow with a 5pm throw-in with Boherbue and Iveleary doing battle in what has the makings of a cracking encounter.
The Muskerry champions showed their class by hammering Kilmacabea 5-16 to 1-8 in last week’s semi-final and that will put them in confident mood ahead of the final, but Boherbue will surely present a stiffer test. Cathal Vaughan is their main man but Chris Og Jones, Sean O’Leary, Brian Cronin and Barry Murphy are key performers.
Boherbue will bring tenacity and determination to this final with Denis McCarthy, Adrian Murphy, Andrew O’Connor, Niall Murphy, CJ O’Sullivan and Kevin Murphy anchoring their challenge.
Hard to call but maybe a slight nod to Iveleary.
Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 7pm is the venue for the all Muskerry encounter of Aghanbulloge and Eire Og in the Intermediate A hurling, with the latter chasing a unique double having won the Senior A football title, with the bulk of the same players while their opponents comfortably won their league final.
Danno Dineen, Aidan Barry Murphy, Paul Ring, Sean O’Connell, Matthew Bradley, Bill Casey and Shane Tarrant are vital players for Aghabullogue, with Daniel Goulding, John Cooper, Kevin Hallissey, Dylan Desmond, Lar Considine, Joe Cooper and Eoin O’Shea similarly important for the Oven’s club. Ciaran Sheehan missed the football final and if he is fit it will be a huge boost.
It is hard to pick a winner but given the chances of a creating a unique and history making double, Eire Og to shade it.
Hurling league finals
A number are down for decision, starting on Friday with the D1 clash of Sarsfields and Midleton in Carrigtowhill, D2 is Kanturk v Newtownshandrum, D3 is Charleville v Coucey Rovers, D4 is Castleyons v Ballincollig, D5 is Valley Rovers v Blarney, D6 is Blackrock v Kilbrittain, D8 is Cloughduv v Castlemartyr, while Knocknagree are quickly back in action when they play Mitchelstown in the D5 decider.
With seniors safely into the All-Ireland semi-final, the Intermediate team are close to advancing from their group to the knockout phase following their win over Antrim. On Saturday they travel to Kilkenny where even a draw should be good enough to progress.
It was a good weekend in general as the minors advanced as well while on Monday last, a Munster Under 16 double was achieved.