Liam O’Connell in action against Enda O’Connor of Kerry during the EirGrid Munster GAA Football Under 20 Championship final match between Kerry and Cork at Austin Stack Park in Tralee on Monday night.Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Must-win game for hurlers

Since the start of the season, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve written ‘must-win game for Cork’. At all other times it has been in relation to the Cork football team, but on this occasion it applies to the hurlers as they face Clare in Thurles on Sunday.

On next Tuesday the same counties meet again in the minor hurling semi-final.

Munster Senior Hurling Championship Rd 2

Cork v Clare on Sunday in Thurles at 2pm

“The result on Sunday will not define our season,” Cork manager Kieran Kingston said before the first round game against Limerick.

In the immediate aftermath of that heavy defeat Kieran added: “It won’t define our season but it has made our task all that bit harder and the Clare game is now a huge game for this group.”

And now with Clare having demolished a poor Tipperary side in Thurles, there are contrasting moods approaching this game; Clare buoyed by that win, Cork coming in on the back of that loss to Limerick.

In fact in the last few weeks, there has been a real mood change in Cork. The exciting win over Kilkenny in the league semi-final has been followed by subsequent losses to Waterford in the league final and then to Limerick.

Losing was bad enough, but the manner of both has led to a lot of soul searching within the panel and the supporters have not been slow to express their views.

For the first time that I can recall, the crowd in Páirc Uí Chaoimh were beginning to vent their frustrations at the style of hurling Cork were playing.

The running and short passing game looks great when it works, but the manner in which it broke down against Limerick did not make for nice viewing. Pucks outs went astray as did several passes, while the way in which the second Limerick goal was conceded was pretty poor stuff at this level.

One stat revealed that 2-16 came from turnovers - I’m not sure it was that high, but it’s an area that needs addressing.

Cork’s defensive difficulties have also been well documented and the concession of six goals in the last two games must be a worry, yet in those two game only one defensive alteration has been made. That came about due to an injury to Damien Cahalane who as a result is out of Sunday’s game.

How will they line out on Sunday? Will they persist with captain Mark Coleman at number 6, while it appears that Robert Downey is likely to get the full-back slot in Cahalane’s absence?

If such is the case, the defence will have changed very little from the last two outings but there is no doubt they collectively and individually will need to be a lot better, if not it could be another difficult afternoon.

There has even been calls for Tim O’Mahoney to be moved further up the field, but it’s hard to see this happening especially for a game of this magnitude.

Clare looked lively up front last Sunday, that said Tipperary were poor, but Shane O’Donnell, Ian Galvin, the returning Peter Duggan and of course the talent that is Tony Kelly will test them.

Who will Cork detail to mark Kelly, which is a task in itself? Ger Mellerick is a good man marker, but it’s a big ask to contain a player of Kelly’s quality.

Midfield will also need to function much better and here a big game will be required from Darragh Fitzgibbon, who has mixed the good with the bad, like so many in recent outings.

The same could be said of the attack.

There were good scores from a number of players but again an inconsistency that is a worry, while the slow ball delivery to the inside line does not help.

Who will start? Shane Kingston appears to perform better when brought in as a substitute, similarly with Seamus Harnedy, while Robbie O’Flynn has probably been the best of the unit, work rate good and the ability to hit quality points.

Shane Barrett, Conor Cahalane, Alan Connolly, Jack O’Connor and possibly the physical presence of Mark Keane will all come into the equation while Patrick Horgan still remains a key player and is as important to Cork as Tony Kelly is to Clare.

In the win over Tipperary, the Clare defence coped comfortably with what Colm Bonnar’s side offered; Cork will surely give them a tougher test.

John Conlon was excellent, Gavin McInereney was effective and his a superb point, while Conor Cleary and Rory Hayes impressed but goalkeeper Eibhear Qulligan will have been disappointed at second goal he conceded.

When the side’s met last year, Cork just got over the line with Patrick Collins denying Kelly a match winning goal with a brilliant last minute save.

This will be a totally different game compared to when Cork played Limerick, Clare are not as physical and tend to let you play and that will suit Cork, but a huge improvement is needed if the win they crave is to be secured.

The reality of this one is that a second defeat will, like Tipperary, effectively end their chances of qualifying even with two games to go. Win and you are in control of your own destiny.

It is a rare that Cork have failed to perform in three games in a row; the motivation to avoid that is huge as surely is the desire to keep their season alive.

On the basis that Cork are not as bad as they have shown in recent games, and the hurt of those two losses will drive them on, they get the nod to win and in the process keep their season alive ahead of the trip to Walsh Park in two weeks.

The game is as usual live on C103.

Minor Hurling semi-final

Cork v Clare on Tuesday at Páirc Uí Rinn at 7.30pm

Having eased into the last four with comfortable wins over Kerry and Limerick, Cork will enjoy the comforts of Páirc Uí Rinn for this encounter against a Clare side that lost to Tipperary in round 1, then got the better of Waterford and Kerry.

Clare were unlucky to lose to Tipperary and will relish the chance to take down the champions especially on home soil.

In the corresponding fixture last year, Cork were comfortable winners but that will have little bearing as the personnel will have changed but both sides have a few survivors, but Clare will surely present a different challenge this time round.

Cian Neylon, Jack O’Neill, James Hegarty, Sean Mc Mahon, Oisin Whelan and James Organ will anchor the visitors’ challenge.

Cork were always favourites to emerge from their group and while they had their expected win over Kerry, the manner in which they saw off Limerick has strengthened the belief that this team will make a bold bid to retain the titles won last year.

There is a nice balanced look to this team with Tim O’Leary Hayes, Daniel Murnane and Sean Ahern have coped comfortably in defence.

The midfield pairing of Peter O’Shea and Ben Walsh work hard while the attack has scored freely with the quality ball they receive, none more so then Ross O’Sullivan, Adam O’Sullivan, Timmy Wilke and James Murray.

Cork have had a couple of weeks off and any knocks will have cleared up that and a lively and dangerous looking attack should see them into the Munster Final.

Keep an eye on

Well it’s finally resolved. Cork v Kerry goes ahead in Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday 7 May with a 6pm start and what will interest everyone now is what the attendance will actually be. Will the Kerry supporters travel? Given that they are overwhelming favourites, they might wait for another day.

The Cork footballers took a stand and held their ground but ultimately Kerry County Board bailed everyone out of the mess by agreeing to play in Páirc Uí Rinn thus ensuring the status of the Championship was protected as a walkover into the final was the last thing they wanted.

There are lessons for all parties here and the whole situation could and should have been handled better, now let’s just concentrate on the actual game.

Cork have been preparing away in the background and have had a few good workouts against Cavan, Clare and Tipperary in recent weeks and the injury situation appears to be improving, with a number of players returning to training. For some though, this game might be just too soon.

Of course the injury picked up by Ian Maguire is a concern but knowing the determination that this guy has don’t be surprised to see him take his place in midfield - he’s a very important player for this team and his loss would be a huge blow.

Well done to the Cork Senior Camogie team on reaching the Munster Final, they play either Tipperary or Clare in the final in two weeks time.

Finally my thanks to all who ensured last Friday nights 96FM/C013 Sports Star banquet for 2021 was such a huge success, to all in the Rochestown Park Hotel for their as usual exceptional work before and during the night. Also to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin for his attendance and enjoyable company for the entire evening, to the 13 monthly winners for their help and congratulations to Brian Hayes, Ger Fitzgerald and Darragh O’Sullivan - our 3 winners on the night.