Hurling preview: Cork side need to fight fire with fire

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By Tony Considine
The Evening Echo, Expert View

The first thing Cork have to ready for this Sunday is that they’re facing a team who hurling on the edge, sometimes over the edge, and they haven’t met anyone like that so far this season.

Galway has some fine hurlers, I’m not saying that, but they’re very, very physical. They’ve a lot of strong players and we’ve seen serious aggression from Galway in the championship this season. It’s not surprising because they were so tame when it came down to in over the past two season, they’d didn’t kick on at all after going so close to winning the All-Ireland in 2012.

As good as they’ve done, especially in the Dublin replay when they tore them apart from the first ball, I still thought it was a bit premature for Anthony Cunningham to be talking about meeting Kilkenny again right after the Leinster final. Cunningham was sure he’d be meeting Brian Cody and the Cats again in September. You’d imagine Cork have taken not of that!

There’s a lot to like in Galway. They’re good in the air, they’ve that strength and hurling, but they probably lack a bit of race pace, up front and in the backs. Cork should be driving at them from throw-in, really get at them early on.

I feel if you stand up to that physicality, don’t let them bully you, they don’t have much more. I’ve heard Cyril Donnellan has been carrying a knock and if he wasn’t able to start it’d be a huge loss to Galway because he’s been going fierce well from the half-forward line. He’d a lot of injuries for a while now, and in many ways he’s more important than Joe Canning up front.

Canning is important obviously, but Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion are very dangerous too if they’re given room. Flynn was taking the frees until he was injured and Joe took over again, and that says how much Cunningham rates him. If Cork aren’t tight on Mannion nad Flynn, or get too caught up with Canning, then they’ll cause fierce bother inside.

With a sweeper it’ll be tricky for Galway to get decent ball inside, that’s why have gone to that system, even though it’s something Jimmy Barry-Murphy and the lads weren’t keen on originally. In Mark Ellis they’ve the right fella for that role. He doesn’t just hammer the ball anywhere, he’s clever in possession.

He’s a physical guy too, very strong in that number six jersey and Cork have a lot of that now in the backs. Ellis, Cormac Murphy, Aidan Walsh, McDonnell, Damien Cahalane, there’s no one under six foot there, not even close to it!

I wasn’t too impressed with Cork’s defence a couple of months ago but what a change now. They sum up how the team has been improving all the time, a few changes, the likes of Shane O’Neill and Lorcán McLoughlin injured, and you’ve much better shape, discipline and set-up. Now that’s not to say O’Neill and McLoughlin aren’t fine players, but there’s been a totally different attitude across the board.

You can be sure Brian Murphy is a major part of that. I’ve said it a few times but he’s totally settled them down. He’s a leader, a calming influence and we’ve seen before, and only two weeks ago with Shane O’Donnell, he can mark anyone.

Will he mark Joe though? You could have McDonnell or Cahalane on him too, they’d be able to handle him in the air, but I know who I’d put on him.

They’ve no goal conceded in the Wexford and Clare games, after being torn open time and time against Waterford and they’ve a unit now in defence. In any sport, and whatever about league in the GAA, you need to build from the back to win anything.

Sometimes that comes from work-rate in the forwards and we’ve finally seen that with Cork. Jimmy and the selectors deserve a bit of credit because they’ve got the likes of Patrick Horgan and Conor Lehane working and hurling now.

I thought the Clare game was one of Horgan’s best ever for Cork because he stood up and was counted at the most important time in the most important match of the season. That’s what I call being a top-class forward.

Conor Lehane did the same the week before and you can say, ‘sure it was only Wexford’, but to go up to Wexford Park and basically have the game won in 20 minutes, that was impressive. Lehane’s work-rate against Clare was fantastic too, especially in the last 15 minutes.

They’ve Seamus Harnedy too and Galway won’t bully him. He’s a go-to man up front for Cork and they’re all following his lead now. I think Pa Cronin is also hurling well, winning his bit of ball in the air and he’s eight points from play in three games. Last season his confidence was low and he didn’t score in five of them.

The only forward there’s a bit of a concern about right now is Alan Cadogan. He hasn’t come close to the form of 2014 and it seems like if he moves left these days the sliotar will go right! He has the ability we’ve seen that, but he must be under pressure from Paudie O’Sullivan and Jamie Coughlan, they both looked lively and scored off the bench against Clare. It’s no surprise Cadogan missed out when JBM picked his team, but it is that Shane O’Neill replaces him.

Cork should be targeting Iarla Tannian and John Hanbury in the Galway defence. Really test them by running hard. Midfield will be a right battle I’d say but Bill Cooper will be full of confidence after the Clare match. You’d wonder is Daniel Kearney running himself too hard at the start of games because he’s out of steam in the second half. He should conserve his energy, let the ball off more.

Both teams are in a similar position. The buzz is back with Cork and even though Galway don’t have a good record in Thurles, they’ll come all guns blazing too. It’s up to Cork to put them back on their arses.

Kilkenny still had enough for Galway the last day and I think Cork have so much going for them they know they’re in with a right chance if they get through here.

And I think they will.