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James Crombie/INPHO Can Jimmy Barry-Murphy revive Cork's season?
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The back door will slam shut on Cork's hurlers as they chase All-Ireland glory
The Rebels will struggle to create their 2013 heroics, when they contested an All-Ireland final.

WHEN CORK LAST contested an All-Ireland senior hurling final, in 2013, they had to come through the back door to get there.

Limerick inflicted a nine-point defeat on the Rebels in the Munster final but Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s men gained huge momentum by knocking out champions Kilkenny in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

A semi-final victory over Dublin booked a two-game final epic with Clare but the Banner County exposed huge gaps in the Cork defence in the replay, pouncing for five goals.

In truth, Cork should have closed the first game out, showing real naivety and wasting possession when they went a point clear in stoppage time.

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Clare’s debrief enabled them to devise a plan for the rematch that saw Cork opened up with direct lines of running through the heart of the defence, with no sweeper to stop the danger.

There’s a fear that Cork still haven’t learned those lessons in terms of tactical nous.

The old days of going 15 on 15 against top-level intercounty opponents, without any real obvious gameplan in place, are long gone.

In the tactical stakes, Cork were out-thought by Waterford boss Derek McGrath in the Allianz League final and more recent Munster semi-final.

Cork had a good look at Waterford in the first game and despite having five weeks to come up with a blueprint to turn the tables, they didn’t manage it.

Despite getting off to a good start, the Leesiders looked rudderless as the Munster clash wore on.

Maurice Shanahan celebrates scoring a goal Cathal Noonan / INPHO Maurice Shanahan and Waterford were far too good for Cork in the Munster semi-final. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Cork have played in six major finals since 2010, including Munster, League and All-Ireland deciders. But their record of just one win from that sextet (last year’s Munster final) hints at an inability to get the job done when the pressure is at its highest.

There are some very real immediate concerns for JBM as he looks ahead to next Saturday’s crunch qualifier against Wexford.

It’s the draw Cork wouldn’t have wanted and right now, there are two fences to jump before they can even start thinking about an All-Ireland quarter-final.

Whether they are good enough to vault those remains to be seen and Wexford will provide stiff opposition on their home patch.

Cork have the personnel to get the job done but injuries in defence to key personnel have left them light on bodies, with Brian Murphy returning to answer an SOS.

Aidan Walsh’s loss of form is another major issue and Patrick Horgan will hope to find some freedom to express himself following two testing outings against Waterford’s Noel Connors.

Noel Connors and Patrick Horgan James Crombie / INPHO Waterford's Noel Connors (4) had the better of Patrick Horgan in the Munster semi-final. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Opposition managers have surely figured out by now that if Horgan is curbed, by man-marking him, it will go a long towards potential success.

Would Horgan profit from a switch to a deeper role, perhaps in Cork’s half-forward line?

Horgan was not only blotted out by Connors, but also by Tipperary’s Cathal Barrett in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final. Of course, a lack of any real quality supply is a factor here too.

A switch to number 11 could re-energise Horgan, allowing him to pick off long-range scores while also bringing teammates into play.

Horgan is an extremely intelligent player but with Seamus Harnedy returning from injury, and Patrick Cronin expected to retain his place after a real tour de force against Clare, there may not be room to accommodate a switch for Horgan.

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What could rejuvenate Cork is the influx of new talent. The likes of goalkeeper Patrick Collins, David Noonan, Rickard Cahalane, Anthony Spillane, Dayne Lee, Luke Meade, Niall Cashman and minor sensation Shane Kingston are the future. 

Patrick Collins dejected after the game James Crombie / INPHO Patrick Collins is tipped to emerge as Anthony Nash's successor between the sticks for Cork. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Kingston is unfortunately out for the remainder of the season and while JBM will surely go with tried and trusted for Innovate Wexford Park, a player out of left field could make a real difference, a joker in the pack.

A positive for Cork is that Harnedy and Lorcán McLoughlin will return to strengthen the side but fitness also appeared to be an issue against Waterford.

The Déise showed boundless enthusiasm and energy levels and Cork couldn’t compete with the running power of their opponents.

The weeks since that defeat will have enabled Cork’s players to get up to speed but they’ll need to bring much higher levels of intensity and aggression to the table if they wish to progress in the championship.

Seamus Harnedy Cathal Noonan / INPHO The return of Seamus Harnedy will boost the Cork hurlers. Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

All is not lost for Cork but they’ll need vast improvement to make an impact in the All-Ireland series.

The Munster semi-final defeat was damaging in that it not only cost Cork a place in the final, but also pitched them into the qualifier minefield.

If they can come through it unscathed, they’ll meet a beaten provincial finalist in the quarter-finals and Cork’s season could turn.

They have to get there first and from what we’ve seen thus far, it could be too big an ask.

Some fine players remain in the Cork set-up but they don’t possess enough talent or strength in depth to challenge for the big September prize.

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