Cork looking for a fast start to tough Munster campaign

Rebels manager Pat Ryan warns that an opening loss to Waterford could derail team’s championship aspirations

Offer Pat Ryan a third-place finish in the Munster senior hurling championship right now and he’d take hand and all – because to win the All-Ireland race, you first have to get to the start line.

The provincial hurling championships begin this weekend, with two huge fixtures in Munster – Clare hosting Limerick, and Cork travelling to Waterford.

Cork were one of the teams left behind last summer, a defeat to Limerick in their last round-robin game saw the Rebels finish fourth in Munster and thus miss out on qualification for the All-Ireland series.

“We didn’t make progress [last year], we didn’t get out,” says Ryan. “We’re trying to get back to the top table and get into an All-Ireland final, we were in one in 2021 and we didn’t perform the way we would’ve liked.


“Our job is to try win an All-Ireland, that’s why we took the job on. Getting out of Munster is the first step in that.”

Given the attritional nature of the Munster SHC, clambering towards one of the top three rungs is incredibly difficult – because all five teams will legitimately feel they are good enough to progress to the Liam MacCarthy competition.

So, while getting to the latter stages as Munster champions would be the preferred route, Ryan says he would absolutely cash in a promise of third if offered it right now.

“I’d bite your hand off for it,” he says. “I think everyone would, with the exception of Limerick maybe, because everybody is looking for that, to get out of Munster.

“We didn’t get out of Munster last year and that’s key to our year, everything takes off after that. We know how competitive Munster is, if you come out of Munster you should be having aspirations of getting to an All-Ireland final at that stage.

“The Munster championship is so cut-throat that you have to be ready, before [in the previous structure] you were getting a backdoor afterwards, you were going into a preliminary quarter-final and you had something.

“You knew that your year wasn’t over. This next [few] weeks are going to decide what we’re working at for the last 25. That is cut-throat.”

To negotiate safe passage out of Munster, Cork must deal with four titanic championship battles – the first of which sees them travel to Walsh Park this Sunday.

The Rebels won their opening match of the 2023 Munster SHC, beating Waterford at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and history shows teams that lose their first matches tend to struggle in the race for a top-three finish.

Cork had two home fixtures first up last summer – against Waterford and Tipperary, coming out of those contests with a win and a draw. This term, they are away to Waterford at the weekend before two monumental home matches on the bounce – against Clare and then Limerick.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, if you lose your first game it’s very hard to come out of it after that,” adds Ryan. “After that, you’re trying to win two out of three, you want four or five points to make sure.

“From our point of view, it’ll be a huge challenge for us but our two home games are key to us as well. Those two home games will decide our year.

“Your home games are key, that’s what kept us out of qualifying last year. We beat Waterford and we didn’t play as well as we wanted against Tipperary. We probably should’ve won the game coming down the stretch; you have to win your home games.

“Obviously, the Waterford game is going to be a very important game starting off. If you can get two points on the board early, you’re fighting then until the end.”

Waterford enter the championship on the back of a lacklustre league campaign in which their only victory was against Offaly at the start of February.

However, Davy Fitzgerald’s side jetted out to Portugal for a warm weather training camp after the league and Ryan is expecting a Waterford backlash this weekend.

“I think they’ve been at pains to say that it’s all about championship for them. They’ve had a lot of fellas missing, a lot of their top players missing,” he says.

“We’ve analysed their game a good bit, just like they probably have with us, they’ve played really good passages of play at times. Against Wexford, they had 16 points scored at half-time which was a really good performance.

“They played well the last day against Kilkenny and just petered out. Maybe that’s to do with not having some of their frontline players there.

“From our point of view, we know what we’re going to get against Waterford the first day. The first day last year against Limerick they were excellent, Walsh Park being open, we expect a huge challenge going down there.

“In fairness, Davy and his management team have been fairly obvious that they’re targeting our game. Everybody targets the first game.”

Let the games begin.


Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times