McGrath warns Cork what to expect against Kilkenny

Former star says Rebels must match Cats’ trademark aggression, physicality and never-say-die spirit if they are to prevail

These are relative boom times for Cork hurling and it would be easy to get carried away by the intoxication of it all.

By mid-August, Cork could be back-to-back All-Ireland under-20 champions. On Monday evening their minors could be Munster champions while, a day earlier, Kieran Kingston’s seniors play Kilkenny in an All-Ireland semi-final that they’re shaping up very nicely for.

If the positive vibes are familiar it’s because Cork’s flagship seniors have found themselves in this position before, heading to Croke Park in confident mood only to come up surprisingly short.

They haven’t been in an All-Ireland final since Seánie McGrath and current manager Kingston were selectors alongside Jimmy Barry-Murphy in 2013. It’s 16 years since they last won the Liam MacCarthy cup.

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“For all the positives we’re seeing, all the good stuff about Cork, the pace, the composure, the defence looking like it’s back on track, the one thing people will still possibly ask is can Cork match Kilkenny’s aggression, the physicality and never-say-die spirit?” said McGrath.

“I’m hopeful but I suppose we’ll only really know the answer to that one on Sunday evening.

"They're the things that Brian Cody always gets out of his Kilkenny teams and you're as good as guaranteed they'll deliver them again this weekend.

“I’d even argue that over the last 15 or 20 years, he’s had players who were good that he made great. He always gets that response from his teams so Cork should expect that level of ferocity again, they’re going to definitely get it. What Cork have to do is meet that head-on.”

The accusation in the past is that Cork haven’t met it head-on and have been unable to raise their game to the required level when it truly mattered. Waterford and Limerick both picked their pockets at this stage in 2017 and 2018. Cork led at some stage in the second half in both times.

Game management

“It’s probably a couple of things that have cost us but I don’t go with the ‘Cork can’t play with intensity’ line,” said McGrath. “We can play with intensity, absolutely. I’ve been involved with Cork teams, as a player and as a selector, and we’ve come up against teams and played with incredible intensity. I genuinely don’t see that as the problem.

“I just think perhaps in ’17 and ’18, we maybe didn’t show enough composure and good game management. It’s not always fair to focus on intensity. We’ve always been praised for being cute Cork hurlers but, to be honest, maybe sometimes we haven’t shown that cuteness in those situations where you really need it.”

But McGrath is confident that Cork have learned and that they’re in a strong position to finally deliver on their potential on Sunday.

“The last few games have been encouraging,” he said.

"The most encouraging thing was the Clare game, coming down the stretch. Okay, Tony Kelly put himself in a position at the very end where he could have got the winning goal but I thought overall Cork showed a lot of composure that day which they'd probably been lacking in the past.

“Couple that with the young players coming through, the bench they have, the way the defence has improved, there’s a lot to be happy with.”