Cooper and Cork hoping to hit the ground running
Beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists start their campaign against holders Kilkenny
Bill Cooper of Cork at the launch of this year’s Allianz Hurling League. “We learned the hard way a few years ago not having great form going though the league . . .then it’s very hard to turn it around. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Pity the poor player invited to talk up any competition without risk.
Cork may not be the only county weighing up the merits or otherwise of chasing the 2019 Allianz Hurling League – they last won the league in 1998 – and midfielder Bill Cooper admits the championship is where every team wants to be cracking.
With the current Divisions 1A/1B format being restructured later this year for the 2020 competition, with no relegation for Liam MacCarthy teams and instead giving both divisions equal status, the 2019 competition is essentially a risk-free investment ahead of the championship.
Speaking at the 2019 league launch, Cooper was back in Croke Park for the first time since Cork lost their memorable All-Ireland semi-final to eventual champions Limerick, 3-32 to 2-31, after extra-time.
Given how Cork’s 2018 league campaign went, winning only one round proper and then the relegation play-off against Waterford, it’s little wonder Cooper hints at those mixed feelings on the league ahead of the championship.
“We learned the hard way a few years ago not having great form going though the league and then it’s very hard to turn it around,” he said. “Last year we struggled through the league and we were lucky enough to turn it around. We want to be more consistent than last year.
“Thankfully you know we retained our status in 1A and we were able to pick up our form for the summer. Obviously, it’s not ideal. But it shows the competition in Munster and, ask anyone at the start of the campaign, they all want to win Munster. It’s very competitive as you saw the last few years, and I don’t think anyone will turn up their nose.
“Obviously the record of Munster champions not going on to win the All-Ireland is there for everyone to see, but I don’t think it takes from the Munster championship.
“I think it’s a big plus for the sport, the same way if there were six teams that could win the Premiership then there would be more people watching the Premiership. That’s sport, people want to see competition, good quality competitive and close games. The more of them the better, and hurling is all the better for that.
“Definitely it is very competitive and there are maybe eight teams that can beat anybody on any given day. You really have to just approach it properly and everybody really just has be pulling together.
The competition is very strong and that’s the big fear really, it’s trying to get in the top three and get a crack at the All-Ireland series. It’s brilliant for spectators, it’s brilliant for players as well, you are really challenged, you are getting a crack at everybody.
“But again the Munster campaign is a long way away now, our whole focus now is on next weekend against Kilkenny and that’s the only way you can approach it really. We have a lot of games in the Allianz League and we will be trying to improve incrementally week on week.”
Still, this heightened importance of the round-robin Munster championship is reflected in the Munster Council’s financial report, to be presented to the provincial convention this week. It showed council income for 2018 at €9,586,167, up €1,774,880, or 23 per cent on 2017; this is mainly explained by the increase in hurling championships games from four to 11, and a 27 per cent increase in overall gate receipts.
One criticism of Cork was that Limerick had slightly more depth on that All-Ireland semi-final day and, with that in mind, Cork manager John Meyler will want to strengthen his panel in this league campaign.
“Maybe that will be their approach. My approach as a player will be trying to get onto the team, and be consistent and try and hold onto your jersey I suppose. You can’t get too ahead of yourself either.
“Obviously all management’s goal or ambition is to find a few players throughout the league as well as all the other things I said. From a player’s view you are just trying to take it week on week and just trying to perform well. There is a lot of competition in the Cork squad for places, so I suppose that’s a big driver for any player.”