Former Wexford star Éanna Martin is (like many) of the view that Limerick are strong favourites for Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling final against Cork, but doesn’t feel that the Shannonsiders are absolute certainties to retain their title.
A win for John Kiely’s side would mean the Liam MacCarthy Cup residing by the Shannon for the third year in four – the last time anyone other than Kilkenny enjoyed such supremacy was Cork’s three-in-a-row side from 1976-78 – while Cork are seeking a first victory since 2005.
Nevertheless, Martin – who retired after the 2020 season – thinks that Cork will give the Treatymen a tough battle.
“Limerick are obviously going to be favourites,” he says, “going for two in a row and three in four years – and a lot of people would say they took their eye off the ball in 2019.
“But finals take on a life of their own in some ways. Cork are going in confident – beating Kilkenny is always good for them and there’s a feelgood factor going in as well.
“The thing I’m looking at is that they’ve already played each other this year and Cork gave a fairly good account of themselves in the first half, up until the two goals in injury time, and Hoggie (Patrick Horgan) missed a penalty, so they’re not overly far off them even though Limerick ended up winning by eight points.
“I still think Limerick are favourites, but it’s not just a case pf them showing up. Cork can trouble them but Limerick’s defence is that bit meaner at the moment and won’t allow a high-scoring game against Cork.”
It’s Cork’s first final since 2013, when they lost to Clare after a replay, but Martin doesn’t feel that it’s an over-achievement by Kieran Kingston’s side.
“They’ve played four games,” he says, “and they’ve beaten Clare, Dublin and Kilkenny since losing to Limerick.
“That’s the way of the championship format, you can get to the All-Ireland final without making it to the provincial final.
“It all depends on your draw and peaking at the right time. Cork seem to be coming really well and there’s a buzz with the minors and U20s reaching their All-Ireland finals, too.”
And what can Cork do to try to cause an upset?
“They have to go at their own game,” Martin says.
“The big thing with Limerick is their half-forwards going way back, they can set up defensively but they can play either way and that’s the beauty of them, their hurling is so sharp.
“Cork can’t let Limerick get a stranglehold on the game. You look at what Waterford did at the start of the semi-final, they absolutely tore into Limerick but Limerick just took it and got to the first water break and took stock of what was going on and came up with a different plan and decided to implement it.
“I think Cork have to look at their own game and the way they’ve been playing the last few games, especially the Kilkenny one, with the free-running and free-scoring, that’s the way they have to do it.
“Obviously, they have to rely on their bench coming in as well. I think both panels have a strong bench, which is going to be hugely important, depending on how they use them.”
Cork were in Wednesday’s All-Ireland U20 final against Galway and face the Tribesmen in Saturday’s minor decider, but banking on the future can be a dangerous approach.
“You definitely have to take the chance now,” Martin says.
“You look at 2013, the last time Cork were in the final, they were beaten by Clare and probably felt they should have won it but they haven’t been back there since and there are only two players left.
“It doesn’t just happen automatically the next year, so they have to take their opportunity. In the back of their heads, they know it’s good that the minors and U20s are doing well but they’ll want to win it for their panel.
“From a Cork hurling point of view, the minors and U20s winning would be great in the grand scheme of things but the players there on Sunday know that they might never be there again – lads can get injured or dropped, things can end up not going your way. Clare won that one in 2013 and ended up not playing at Croke Park for a few years after.”
On the other side, a Limerick win would mean unprecedented dominance in the modern era from a side not managed by Brian Cody. Even so, Martin doesn’t feel that they would become a behemoth nobody could challenge.
“The thing with Limerick is that the Munster championship is such a minefield,” he says, “more competitive than the Leinster football.
“If Limerick do win again, the chasing pack aren’t a million miles away from them. Still, to win three in four years is massive for any county.
“They’re a young squad, they’re very well-coached and they’ve a good bit of underage talent coming through. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.”
COVID-19 remains an intruder in everyday life and all any of us can do is react to it.
On Wednesday night, Cork played Galway in an All-Ireland U20 hurling final that was originally due to be played on 7 August but had to be postponed due to a COVID-19 case in the Cork camp, with everyone else in the group declared a close contact.
Of course, the most high-profile instances are within the Tyrone senior football team, to such an extent that their All-Ireland semi-final with Kerry has now been re-fixed for a second time.
Initially set for last Sunday, it was moved to this Saturday then then Tyrone signalled that they would be unable to fulfil that fixture, either.
While there were some calls to proceed without them, or allow the beaten Ulster finalists Monaghan to take their place, such moves were unlikely to happen and the fact that Kerry County Board issued a statement expressing a desire for the game to game to take place probably tipped the scales in favour of another postponement, to 28 August, with the final now taking place on 11 September.
It means that Mayo will have had a four-week lead-in to the decider – potentially too long – while club fixtures in Mayo, Kerry and Tyrone are affected, too.
Even so, it was probably the right call, but what would happen if Kerry were to experience a COVID-19 outbreak at this point? Where do you draw the line? Hopefully it’s not a question that has to be answered.