The Irish Mail on Sunday
Tradition counts... that’s why I’m tipping the Rebels to win
THIS CORK team has won nothing. No Munster titles, no National Leagues. Promotion from Division 1B this spring is about as good as it gets. So there is no fear, despite the bookies odds of 3/1 in their favour, of taking Waterford for granted in the big first-round meeting in Munster this afternoon at Semple Stadium. How could they when the cupboard is bare? With Tom Kenny retired, the remaining link to the last All-Ireland of 2005 is gone. Any Cork team I know that won All-Irelands in the past would have had a backbone of players who were successful at minor or under-21 level or both, so it’s going to be a huge task for this team to land the silverware that matters.
It’s certainly not an ideal situation; a county would always prefer to be working off a production line of players who know what it’s like to win.
But Cork still came within touching distance of Munster and All-Ireland titles last year without that roll call of proven medal winners.
That’s where tradition counts: in Cork, we do believe, traditionally, we’ve a right to be competing for All-Irelands.
And this year has to be about silverware. Selector Seanie McGrath admitted it earlier in the week and Jimmy Barry Murphy has also been saying how important it is for the players to get their hands on a cup and, as a group, such hunger for success is what I think will drive them on.
The management have nailed their colours to the mast with a bold team selection. The fact that Mark Ellis is starting centre-back means they know they have a problem there and are trying to rectify it. Similarly at full-back with Damien Cahalane given the nod.
It’s a big ask for these two guys in two key central positions. Cahalane has lacked a bit of hurling due to his football commitments but the one thing he has is a great temperament – in that way, he is very much in the mould of his father Niall.
Ellis comes from a small club, Millstreet, which is predominantly football, and his inclusion is another show of faith after showing good form in recent challenge matches.
Aidan Walsh has the big-time experience as an All-Ireland-winning footballer so he’ll take it all in his stride. Cork need a bit of strength around the middle, a bit of size. He’ll bring that. Not to mention pace.
He has a pedigree from underage level and he is a very capable hurler. The more games he’ll get, the better he’ll be.
Alan Cadogan is the other debutant, another dual talent. He’s a real livewire: fast, skilful, and someone who I think has a big career ahead of him.
Seamus Harnedy’s impact last year showed that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. He proved to be a huge player for Cork and he leads the attack. The right temperament for big match day, that’s the type of player you want, and he has those qualities in abundance. He was the unsung hero of Cork in 2013. People will be watching him closely so he’ll have to handle that but he has all the attributes - strength in the air, pace, and an eye for goal.
WATERFORD don’t fear Cork and, in a way, the stage is set for them to ambush the favourites. But losing a third of their team for various reasons is a big blow with Shane O’Sullivan, Philip Mahony, Stephen Daniels, Stephen Molumphy and Maurice Shanahan all missing from the starting lineup.
I can understand why Derek McGrath then is likely to play a seven-man defence. Kevin Moran is just one player well equipped to sweep around at the back and with options limited up front, they can’t afford to throw off the shackles as John Mullane suggested.
They won’t want to see Pat Horgan, Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy ghosting through. As long as they can keep in touch, keep the pressure on Cork, keep it tight, then there is a bigger chance of frustration setting in for Cork and the pressure mounting.
Cork’s defensive pattern has to be set up to cope with five forwards. Ellis has to hold his position. Conor O’Sullivan, to me, looked tailor-made for a sweeping role but hasn’t made the cut. It’s a big ask for a new-look Waterford attack to do serious damage. If Cork don’t concede goals they’ll win. In Leinster, Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett is doing a huge job. With home advantage, I think they can beat Antrim and top the round-robin group with the winners to face Wexford and the losers Galway. What I admire is that they’ve picked up where they left off last year. I was wondering was it a onehit wonder running Galway close but they gave Cork and Clare a run for their money in the League.
They’re great people up there; they love their hurling. I was there for a year but they needed an inside man. Cheddar has brought a positive frame of mind. He has an astute backroom team with Ger Cunningham involved.
They are on the crest of a wave and have a defensive system which will make it very hard for Antrim. I know it’s hard for the likes of Carlow and Westmeath to be out of contention but counties have to earn their right to play in the Leinster Championship proper. You can’t let everyone in; you have to be good enough.