No such thing as a bad Cork team

There is a big danger that Kilkenny hurling supporters will head to Semple Stadium on Sunday for the All-Ireland quarter-final feeling that Cork will not pose too big a problem.

There is a big danger that Kilkenny hurling supporters will head to Semple Stadium on Sunday for the All-Ireland quarter-final feeling that Cork will not pose too big a problem.

Cork and Kilkenny have many similarities, not least their strong tradition of delivering performances when least expected. But we can be assured that the Kilkenny mentors and especially the players will not take the Rebels for granted.

There is no such thing as a bad Cork team and it is worth remembering that although the Rebels were a man down they came mightily close to Limerick at one stage in the second half in the Munster final. The 2013 championship has been a roller-coaster journey for Kilkenny.

Every game brought a new twist and a level of euphoria which Kilkenny supporters have rarely experienced. Over the past decade or more as Kilkenny ran up a hugely impressive array of All-Ireland titles, supporters were carried on a wave of spectacular performances and high-scoring games.

Not as sharp

This year it has been different. From the opening game against Offaly the reigning All-Ireland champions did not appear as sharp as previous years. The subsequent defeat by Dublin may have been a surprise, but it was no shock. How would Kilkenny now react to entering the Qualifiers at such an early stage?

The previous two games against Tipperary and Waterford took Kilkenny supporters on a journey they never expected to make. But it has been a journey of bewildering excitement that has left every supporter spellbound and in awe of players who refuse to yield to any opponent.

The Cats grip on the MacCarthy Cup is as strong as ever. After the Dublin defeat being drawn against Tipperary in Nowlan Park was an undoubted boost.

The results in the Tipperary and Waterford games could have been different had Kilkenny not upped its performances significantly from previous matches. The players deserve huge credit. At the root of this transformation has been the leadership shown, on and off the field.

We saw in the Tipperary and Waterford games how the players are now performing more confidently. This is vital as the championship heads towards a conclusion. Cork’s Munster final loss to Limerick, plus the disappointing display of their under-21 side against Tipperary last week, are not helpful to the Rebels as they face their great rivals, Kilkenny.

Red card rescinded

However, the decision by the Central CHC to rescind the red card which Patrick Horgan received against Limerick has given the Rebels a boost. I do not believe any Kilkenny supporter will have any issue with Horgan being allowed to play.

In assessing the Munster final there is a danger one may only look only at the result. During the first half Cork was the dominant side and should have led by at least six points at the interval. Cork was full of running but the dismissal of Horgan had a big bearing on their performance.

I still believe Limerick would have won the game had Horgan remained on the field, but it would have been a much tighter affair. That is why we dismiss Cork’s chances at our peril.

The Rebels like nothing more than playing Kilkenny (and vice versa). The counties bring out the best in each other.

Kilkenny is not back to its form of previous years but it will still take a great team to defeat them. Cork will look to exploit the open spaces of Semple Stadium and hope that Kilkenny may not be up to yet another energy-sapping encounter.

The doubts being expressed about Kilkenny, principally outside the county, is not lost on the players. Those doubts are proving hugely motivational for the players. No matter what tactics Cork deploy, I still believe Kilkenny can successfully negotiate a tricky encounter.