It’s difficult to bet against champions Kilkenny as Cork face a huge task

Clare get a tentative vote to see off inconsistent Galway in the other quarter-final

Richie Hogan has started to come to the fore for Kilkenny and will pose a huge threat to Cork’s defence at Thurles. Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Richie Hogan has started to come to the fore for Kilkenny and will pose a huge threat to Cork’s defence at Thurles. Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho


The appetite has been well and truly whetted by what has been served up on the hurling fields so far this summer. Tomorrow’s All-Ireland quarter-finals will likely be a continuation of what has been a fantastic championship so far, with all four teams involved able fighting for redemption.

Dublin and Limerick will be watching eagerly to see what unfolds.

We are still in July and yet old rivals Cork and Kilkenny already are set to lock horns. .

I had high hopes for Cork going into the Munster final with Limerick but was ultimately disappointed in what they produced that day, particularly up front. While they were down to 14 men after Pat Horgan’s dismissal, they were unable to cope with the physicality of Limerick who were totally driven. In their defence, Limerick probably played the best hurling of anybody this year in that provincial final.

Serious steps
Kilkenny have taken some serious steps along a novel route in getting to this stage but this is Cork’s first shot at redemption. It would be a major coup if they could take Kilkenny’s scalp and get into an All-Ireland semi-final.

I thought before the Munster final they would manage without Brian Murphy, that he wouldn’t be such a big loss. I was wrong. Murphy’s absence proved to be huge and will likely be again. Against that, Shane O’Neill has been named in the team but it is important that he is fully fit.

In that Munster final, Cork had real problems from their half-back line and midfield up and, between Christopher Joyce and Lorcan McLoughlin, struggled to find a dominant centre-half back to cope with Limerick’s James Ryan. And Cork’s forwards came up very short, Séamus Harnedy apart in the first half and Pa Cronin in the second. The rest of them were very poor on the day and were easily held.

Cork had plenty of chances in the first half but were wasteful. Players like Luke O’Farrell and Conor Lehane, who were expected to be the main scoring threat, were replaced. It is a big ask for Cork to turn it around. It would be the performance of the year if they were to do it.

They seemed to produce a decent performance against Clare but Clare didn’t subsequently frank that form to be honest and struggled to get over Wexford the last day.

Cork were relegated in the league and there are doubts about the form of the Clare win. For me, it is a big ask to expect them to beat a Kilkenny team who have come through a really hard route.

This Kilkenny team is not anything like the team of 2010 or 2011. They slipped back a little last year from those incredibly high performance levels and have slipped back more this year. They’ve only scored one goal from play in five and a half matches (including the extra-time against Waterford). It’s their defence that has kept them in contention.

Yet, since losing to Dublin in Leinster, Kilkenny have gone on a run, seeing off Tipperary in Nowlan Park and then Waterford in Thurles after a huge battle. That suited Kilkenny. They relish those type of contests where pride in themselves and in the Kilkenny jersey is at stake. In extra-time against Waterford, Kilkenny somehow turned it around and produced their best hurling of the year.

They still have that hunger, desire and experience.

They’re driven by their defence but Richie Hogan has started to come to the fore and Colin Fennelly and Michael Fennelly showed their range against Waterford. Colin showed how suited Thurles is to his galloping style of play and he could cause trouble for Cork which he did against Limerick last year. Richie Power’s been consistently their best player this year.

But there is still a vulnerability about Kilkenny. They’re not firing on all cylinders. Michael Fennelly contributed a lot on his return the last day against Waterford and he has had another couple of weeks to improve his fitness. If he is back to his best , then he’ll be a major influence. But I don’t expect to see a lot of Henry Shefflin, who didn’t look comfortable at all against Waterford and clearly needs more time.

This is a great shot for Cork to resurrect their season.They will need to get a couple of goals to have a chance. I thought they were capable of scoring goals before seeing them in the Munster final.

Their forwards are light but very fast and they will need to move the Kilkenny backs around. You can’t throw high balls into the likes of JJ Delaney or Tommy Walsh or Jackie Tyrrell. They have to run and to move and no doubt they are smart enough to do that. But I think it is too big an ask and believe Kilkenny will come through.

The other game between Clare and Galway is so hard to call. Neither team has shown a lot so far, yet there is potential to produce performances capable of troubling any team.

Galway’s 2013 form has been poor and they confirmed that in the Leinster final against Dublin despite the best efforts of Joe Canning.

They looked so laboured and it is very hard to flick a switch and turn things around when a team hasn’t been doing well all year. Galway are also unsettled in defence, particularly at full back and centre back.

For Clare, John Conlan and Conor McGrath haven’t shown anything like their true form, Tony Kelly is an injury doubt. But if Darach Honan is at peak fitness and the others produce their top form, Clare would be a transformed outfit. In fact, if either team hit form, they’d be capable of winning. I give a tentative vote to Clare, but this one could go either way – even by a wide margin. That’s the intrigue of it.

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