Clare’s Peter Duggan is tackled by Sean O’Donoghue during the Munster Hurling Senior Championship match at Cusack Park in Ennis. Cork lost a classic by a point by 2-22 to 3-18. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Season defining games for Cork teams

There are two huge games this weekend that will shape the rest of the season for our hurlers and footballers, while the Ladies Football team play old rivals Kerry in the Munster Final.

Sam Maguire Cup

Cork v Louth in Pairc Tailteann Navan on Saturday at 3pm

It is all of 7 weeks since Cork last played a competitive match - the Munster semi-final loss to Clare; by contrast Louth were only beaten by Dublin 2 weeks ago.

The other difference is that Cork lost narrowly, while Louth were hammered in the Leinster Final, and have they had sufficient time to recover?

It is fair to say that very few expected them to beat Dublin, but the scale of the defeat might impact their confidence, but getting to a Leinster Final is a fair achievement for a county the size of Louth and of course they comfortably retained their place in Division 2 of the league.

Factor in they have already beaten Cork in the league in the tight confines of Ardee.

Cork’s loss to Clare will have dented them and in the process denied them getting 2 more championship games into the squad - they would have been favoured to beat Limerick in a semi-final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

How they respond to that setback and how they used the long gap could also shape the contest.

On hearing the draw Manager John Cleary said: “It is the one thing we have no control over; we just have to prepare as best we can and we have been working hard since the Clare game and we will be ready.”

John also confirmed that Brian Hurley will be back: “He is training hard and his presence is a huge boost, he’s a quality forward and we missed him for the latter part of the league and of course the championship match.”

Other than that, they are injury free and John is happy with the preparation. “Obviously we were very disappointed to lose to Clare, but in fairness to the lads, they put it behind them quickly and were back training the following week and have all applied themselves brilliantly since then.”

As for Louth, John knows what to expect. “We played and lost to them in the league, we know how they will set up and we have to counteract that, and to be fair they have had a good run in the championship, apart from the final and that will help them.”

The venue this time is different and John says it’s not an issue. “We have played there before, it’s a nice pitch, a bit bigger then Ardee, where we played in the league, so we have no issue with that.”

Going back to that league game, Cork were going well, missed a goal chance when 4 points in front, then Louth were awarded, in my view a soft penalty and the direction of the contest changed.

Cork played the 2nd half with 14 players after Daniel O’Mahoney was sent-off just before half-time.

Both sides were missing key players on the day - Brian Hurley and Sam Mulroy - they will be playing on Saturday.

It’s the game that many believe the winners of will get the preliminary quarter-final spot, especially with Mayo and Kerry as the other teams in the group this could very well be seen as a knockout game.

Cork’s starting 15 might not differ a whole lot from the Clare game, with the exception of Hurley starting.

Micheál Aodh Martin will be fronted by among others Kevin O’Donovan, Rory Maguire and Mattie Taylor who also missed the game in Ardee - the Mallow man offers a realistic scoring threat going forward.

Ian Maguire and Colm O’Callaghan should anchor midfield, while assisting Hurley in attack you will have Steven Sherock, Ruairi Deane and the effective Sean Powter.

No doubt the astute manager that is Mickey Harte will have planned well for the threat the Cork attack will pose, as his own attack is limited in its scoring prowess.

A huge game for both counties, but Cork will have learned from the loss in the league and to Clare and you would hope that the addition of Brian Hurley gives them an edge to get over the line, and set it up nicely for the visit of Kerry to Páirc Uí Chaoimh a week later.

Cork to win, and the game is live on C103.

Munster Senior Hurling Championship

Cork v Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday at 4pm

“Obviously very disappointed at losing but so proud of the players they kept fighting to the end and very nearly got something from the game, but look that’s the Munster Championship for you and we go again next Sunday.” Cork hurling manager Pat Ryan after the narrow loss to Clare.

“We are still in there fighting with one game to go that is where you want to be with everything to play for.”

The fact that it is against the reigning provincial and All-Ireland champions Limerick on home soil is not really an issue for Pat.

“Well everyone said that at this stage Limerick would have 8 points, but they haven’t. Like ourselves, they’re on 3, so it comes down to Sunday and we will be ready.”

There are areas of concern including losing ground after positive starts in the last two games, against Tipperary outscored by 0-10 to 0-1 in a period, while last Sunday it was 2-8 to 0-2, either side of half-time.

The fact that in both games they were within a whisker of winning speaks volumes for the resilience within the squad, and they will need that and a bit more on Sunday if they are to end the champions interest in the Championship and more importantly keep their own season alive.

What of Limerick, have they gone off the boil somewhat?

Comfortable winners of the league, the form in the Championship has dipped. They struggled to beat Waterford in Rd 1, a team everyone has beaten easily, lost to Clare at home and then a draw with Tipperary - a team they traditionally always beat.

Injuries have not helped; Sean Finn is a huge loss while it is clear Cian Lynch is still not at his best.

Discipline is also a factor with Gearoid Hegarty and Barry Nash both getting sent off on 2nd yellow cards, a particular gripe with John Kiely I believe.

For all that, they remain favourites to win this game and they still have quality all over the field and a level of physicality that Cork as of yet cannot match.

Look at the half-back line of Byrnes, Hannon and Hayes, and in attack there’s Morrissey, Gillane, Flanagan and Cathal O’Neill.

How will Cork line up? The starting 15 will be awaited with interest, especially from midfield up, with the defence probably unchanged, although will Eoin Downey come into the equation, and even if he does, he will still be eligible for the U20 final a week later.

Sean O’Donoghue was excellent on his return, Damien Cahalane, Ciaran Joyce and Rob Downey were solid but will need to be as good if not better on Sunday.

Brian Roche was very good in midfield clipped over 2 points and set up a couple more.

It was the attack that as a unit did not function.

Patrick Horgan with 1-3 from play, and what a goal it was, was the standout player with Seamus Harnedy offering good support, they will need more.

Shane Kingston has impressed when introduced, might get a start this time round, with possibly Brian Hayes another option; Robbie O’Flynn was a real loss and continues to be.

The permutations are simple.

A win or a draw will do Cork, a loss and their season is over, while for Limerick they must win and will not want to go out of the championship on their home patch.

If Cork are to win, they will need a consistent 70 plus minutes, because anything less will be fatal, they will be punished.

The Munster Championship has been riveting, probably the direction changed when Clare beat Limerick, that result gave everyone the belief that the champions were beatable. Limerick will start as favourites and will be expected to win, as they have had Cork’s measure in the championship in recent years, although against the odds, Cork turned them over in the Gaelic Grounds in 2019, a repeat would be nice.

Predicting winners in this championship has been a nightmare since day one. Limerick should win, but as they have shown all year, this Cork team do not countenance defeat, if they are still in the fight entering the last quarter do not rule them out of upsetting the odds.

As always, the match is live on C103.

Munster Ladies Football Final

Cork v Kerry on Sunday in Mallow at 3.30pm

This is a third meeting in a short few weeks between these two very good teams, with very little separating them.

Cork won the league game in March, although Kerry were already into the final and rested a few key players, but in the group stages of this championship, Cork were well behind with 10 minutes remaining and looked beaten.

To their credit they scored 2-4 without reply to earn a draw and then easily accounted for Waterford in their last game.

Both are unbeaten so a lot is at stake not least a higher seeding for the All-Ireland series which starts in the coming weeks. Kerry will be keen to put one over on their neighbours and might be that bit more experienced to do just that.

Whatever the outcome, expect these two to have a big say when the race for Brendan Martin Cup does get underway.