Nicky English: If Cork actually have the potential to win the All-Ireland, they need to show it

A bad week for the promotion of hurling concludes with the quarter-finals and a potential shock for Clare

Due to the scheduling, there is unlikely to be as many Cork supporters at Saturday's Cork-Dublin clash in Thurles as there would have been if throw-in had been set for later in the day. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

We’re down to the last six in an All-Ireland championship that is likely to prove historic and yet, it’s difficult to think of a worse week for the promotion of hurling.

It started with everyone’s attention being drawn to the shortcomings of this weekend’s All-Ireland quarter-final scheduling, followed up by a decision to do nothing about it.

So, we will start this weekend with the game’s biggest support base being asked to turn up for a lunchtime throw-in, which of course they won’t do in the sort of numbers that descended on Thurles a month ago for Cork’s Munster championship match against Tipperary.

These misgivings have been flagged since the calendar was finalised but having been put in the spotlight by the week’s events, the fixtures look even worse, close up.


It’s too late for this year because the hurling championship is nearly over but someone needs to take a grip on the game’s promotion because the product is being actually damaged by negligent scheduling.

On the field, we’re in a familiar situation. Limerick have made their move, like clockwork, in the Munster final and are on an upwards trajectory to Croke Park. The only speed bump along the way was that night in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and they have moved on since then and look to have it in hand over everyone else.

This championship’s one remaining question is whether the winners that night, Cork, can ultimately bring something out of the ordinary or, at least, different from what they’ve brought in the last few years?

Cork's Patrick Horgan takes a free against Limerick in May. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Their statement performance was beating Limerick in front of a massively enthusiastic Cork crowd, which they then brought to Thurles. Since then, however, there has been that totally unnecessary preliminary quarter-final against Offaly.

Laois and Offaly might have beaten the usual annihilation handicap but the McDonagh Cup finalists have no place in the latter stages of the championship, which was underlined when a number of players on both sides voted with their feet and didn’t make themselves available.

We learned nothing new about Cork. The real threat of their full-forward line, particularly Alan Connolly, who was devastating in the Munster championship, wasn’t seen to any great effect.

There was more complication in going through the lines with Conor Lehane directing play whereas their biggest impact this year had been going direct and long. Anyway, they’re in the quarter-final and most unlikely to be stopped by Dublin, who were extraordinarily disappointing against Kilkenny and will find recovery difficult.

What Cork need is a big step up on what they showed last week. They conceded plenty against Offaly and were opened up very easily, which is a major worry for them.

Offaly's Jack Clancy competes with Cork's Sean O'Donoghue. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

On the credit side, they got Ciarán Joyce back but I’d question whether he would be better deployed in the half backs rather than midfield where Ethan Twomey’s more industrial qualities are a loss to the team. Joyce is more of a hurler but I could see him getting a bit lost in the middle.

It’s not easy for either team to be playing at quarter past one but I expect Cork to win but they still have convincing to do. Against Tipperary, they only really got going in the second half and it’s not clear how much of that was Tipp collapsing as they had against Limerick.

Limerick also looked sharper in their matches after Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which begs the question were they in a training phase when they played Cork?

Maybe we set too much store by Dublin beating Galway or the inaccurate belief that Kilkenny were missing players but the Leinster final was over from the moment Eoin Cody scored the first goal inside three minutes.

Dublin won’t upset the apple cart here but Cork will have to show a lot more if they are to go into a semi-final with confidence intact.

In the second match I’ve been impressed by Wexford at their best and a bit baffled by some of their other results, so it’s hard to get an accurate read on them.

Liam Ryan’s potential absence spells trouble for them because they don’t really have a replacement full back and Shane O’Donnell is Clare’s most dangerous player.

Eoin Ryan, Conor Hearne, Richie Lawlor and Cian Byrne are mostly new and have played really well whereas Mark Fanning has been back in form in goal. They have momentum and Keith Rossiter brings home-grown enthusiasm and commitment to the line, which in Wexford of all counties makes a difference.

Wexford manager Keith Rossiter. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Can they win an All-Ireland? Probably not. Are they capable of beating Clare? They are.

This is Clare’s third straight crack at the quarter-finals and they’ve come through the previous two despite the disappointment of losing Munster finals to Limerick. The problem this time is that they got a good, six-point beating from Limerick and were much less competitive than last year.

It can’t be easy to keep lifting yourself to play these matches in order to get back to play Kilkenny in a semi-final that you keep losing. It’s not a great scenario and, on Munster final form, they are quite vulnerable to Wexford at their best.

Lee Chin is in excellent form, Conor McDonald is a presence in the full-forward line and scored five from play last week and two years ago in this match, Rory O’Connor got injured early on and it undermined what had started as a very competitive display by Wexford.

They don’t travel well to Thurles, which is a worry, and there’s a slight question mark over their forwards’ ability to put up big scores. They got 30 against Laois but no goals.

Clare have potentially freer scoring forwards. Mark Rodgers, David Fitzgerald, Peter Duggan and of course O’Donnell. Obviously, there’s Tony Kelly if he can play a full part but he has also struggled for form.

Then there are the difficulties at the back, which have led to a cascade of soft goals. Wexford have a right chance.