Colin Fennelly could be a match winner for Kilkenny
The journey has been most interesting, plus thought and talk provoking up to this, and now things will be stepped up a notch in terms of seriousness.
This is it, the real championship, do-or-die time.
Kilkenny or Cork will be finished in the 2019 senior hurling championship at about 3.25pm on Sunday.
The brighter side of the story is that the winners will be through to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
A meeting there with bang on form All-Ireland champions, Limerick, may not be the most inviting prospect when viewed from this juncture, but that is a conversation for another day.
Right now Croke Park and Cork beckon. According to those cold hearted folk, the bookies, Kilkenny are the outsiders in this game.
Cork at 13-2 are third in the betting behind Limerick (5-4) and Tipperary (5-2) for the glittering prize, the MacCarthy Cup, while the Noresiders languish fifth in the table at 11-1 behind their recent conquerors in the Leinster final, Wexford (9-1).
All part of the side-show. All part of the excitement building process.
Added to chatter
Cork added a bit to the chatter when scoring 40 points in the expected quarter-final win over Westmeath at the weekend. The success was expected (1-40 to 0-20).
The 40 points, perhaps not?
The concession of 20 points to Westmeath, 14 from play, was interesting, however.
Anyway, Cork manager John Meyler and his selectors will pack that experience away quickly with the Kilkenny challenge totally occupying their thoughts.
This is the third meeting of the season between the counties.
The series results stand at 1-1, after Kilkenny won the first round game in the National League (2-18 t0 0-17) and Cork then won the relegation match - not a relegation match, or whatever according to the GAA - at the finish by 2-15 to 1-16.
As a reminder, that result won Division 1A status for Cork in the 2020 League, in company with Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford, Galway and Westmeath.
Defeat cast the Cats into League Division 1B, where they will be in the company of Wexford, Clare, Dublin, Carlow and high flying McDonagh Cup champions, Laois, who have made great progress under the shrew and determined leadership of former Kilkenny great, Eddie Brennan.
This has been a mixed season for Kilkenny, who are still finding their way, team wise.
The stats for the season to date read - played 11 games (6 League; 5 championship); won 4 (2 League and 2 championship); drew 1 (championship); lost 6 (2 in championship).
The consequences - surrender of the National League title and the Cats were relegated, if you want to blunt about it. The finished last in the group.
However, they are back in the championship quarter-finals, the stage they bowed out last season when bettered by Limerick.
The harsh reality is that it is a while since Kilkenny suffered as many defeats in the one season (6). That, more than anything, highlights the county’s current standing in the hurling world.
The Cats are in transition, a suggestion manager Brian Cody hates, and they are trying to climb up the ladder to join the new world leaders that is headed by Limerick.
Cork could have been the kings, remember.
They led the Shannonsiders by six points heading into the closing stages of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, but a blast of injuries and a powerful finish from Limerick threw them off course and they were beaten in extra-time.
Cork’s preferred system, the short puck-out and running game, hurt Kilkenny in that second League clash and they are sure to employ the tactic on Sunday.
This system, as employed by Wexford during the second half of the Leinster final, as employed by Clare in the League in Ennis this season, as employed by Limerick again us, has caused Kilkenny more hardship in recent years than anything else.
We just don’t seem to be able to counter the peculiar challenges this system throws up.
During the opening half of the Leinster final the players, as ever, worked their socks off and cramped Wexford’s style. They had the Slaneysiders in a bind.
They looked the better team, if only slightly. But when the effort flagged ever so slightly afterwards the Slaneysiders made hay, got their running game going.
There was a time in the not too distant past when Kilkenny used to take ownership of a pitch; blasting opponents during the third quarter of matches.
That day is no longer with us. The power players are simply not there in big enough numbers these times.
Kilkenny, on the evidence of the Leinster final, are a decent team, however.
The form of TJ Reid is simply out of this world at the moment. Huw Lawlor is flying. Adrian Mullen appears to have come to terms with the pace of senior inter-county hurling, and he is going well.
And on the strength of their showing last time out, Richie Leahy and James Maher can be bigger contributors to the cause now.
Paddy Deegan, Pádraig Walsh, Joey Holden et al are utterly dependable, and one would hope for more from Walter Walsh and Colin Fennelly this time.
The Tullogher-Rosbercon man has yet to let rip in this campaign, to get in the big catches, make the big hits, make the flying runs up the wing.
It is in him. Now would be a good time to deliver.
If Cork have Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan as potential destroyers up front, then Kilkenny have Colin Fennelly.
There were attempts to get him into 1-on-1 plays against Wexford full-back, Liam Ryan in the Leinster final, but it didn’t work.
He should be employed as Shamrocks employ him, possibly as the lone man inside the ‘14’ so he can make full use of his speed, power, bravery and strength.
He is a proven goal scorer. He has improved his point taking ability too.
Kilkenny should make him the focal point of their attack. He will be able for the challenge. He will be able to carry the burden.
To date Kilkenny have run up some big scores - 2-23, 3-22, 0-23. Imagine, they have the potential to improve on that.
Reid has dominated, running up 2-12, 1-12, 2-11 etc. He has scored 5-54 in all, which is little short of astonishing.
Kilkenny have travelled a long way with their team since they started the campaign with Paddy Deegan at full-back, Huw Lawlor at No. 6 and Pádraig Walsh in midfield.
There is a decent enough shape on the team now. There doesn’t appear to be too much more adjusting to be done to get the maximum out of the squad.
If Richie Hogan is fit, get him in, maybe hurling out the field to augment the effort in the plan to create more space for Fennelly. Maybe Liam Blanchfield should be cut loose?
Cork are sure to want to get their running game going, so it will have to be 15-on-15 for all restarts - puck-outs, lineballs, frees.
Cork goalie Anthony Nash is a great man to ping a ball to a colleague, so cut his options, make him go long and deal with the battles in congested areas out the field.
Kilkenny will have to get back to old way of dictating things in games. If Cork get a hold of the match, they will create havoc.
They have the forwards to do it. At the back they might not be as tidy, as deadly a force. Test them. Test them!
Still, be sure of one thing, Cork are good. Remember, they could easily have been the kings.
Stifling their preferred running game is the starting point for Kilkenny. It has to be!
We don’t expect dramatic change(s) when Kilkenny announce their team. Two changes, perhaps.
The Leinster final was a loss, not a wipe out. Remember, it was 13 wides (K) against three and Kilkenny were only a goal off the pace.
The aim always has to be to improve on your last performance. If Kilkenny can do that, they will be in with a chance, a real chance, no matter what the bookies might suggest.
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