Cork are not playing well enough to beat Kilkenny should they meet in this year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
That is the considered verdict of injured Cork star Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, who hopes his hamstring injury clears up in time to allow him to play in Croke Park on Sunday against Antrim in the All-Ireland hurling quarter-final.
Ó hAilpín says that Waterford deserved to be considered as contenders for September glory having been victorious in the extra-time thriller, but maintains that Kilkenny are “on a different level” to every other team.
He insists that a repeat of Saturday night’s efforts will not be enough for either Waterford or Cork to dethrone All-Ireland hurling champions Kilkenny.
“Waterford are in the All-Ireland semi-finals now and they have to be serious contenders, but from what Cork and Waterford produced last week, and on Saturday night, I can’t see either team beating Kilkenny,’’ he said.
“The way Kilkenny have put teams away with ease, they’re still on a different level to anyone else.”
Ó hAilpín has also dismissed criticism of Waterford’s “dour” style of play, insisting that he would rather be in the Déise’s position as Munster champions and All-Ireland semi-finalists than the one his Cork team finds itself now.
“Waterford made it very difficult for us” he said in his column on joe.ie.
“When teams are attacking them, they flood their half-back line and clog up all the space, so scores were hard to come by.
Kilkenny do that brilliantly — one back and flood the defence — and a lot of counties are copying that.
“Since Davy Fitzgerald took over in Waterford they’ve become very defence-orientated. Before that, under Justin McCarthy, they’d hurl off the cuff. Fellas might have had free rein to go anywhere.
“Now, Davy has them playing to a structure and if you don’t have the ball – midfield, half-backs, half-forwards – you go back and clog up the danger area. One of the best ways to combat that style of play is to take scores from long range but we didn’t do that enough on Saturday.”
Remarkably, Ó hAilpín admits that he thought Antrim had been knocked out of the qualifiers until being told of their success over Dublin as he arrived in Thurles Saturday evening.
“I didn’t even know Antrim were still in the qualifiers. The last time I heard of them they were unlucky to lose against Offaly and I thought that was their involvement in the championship over.
“We were heading into Thurles and someone said Antrim had beaten Dublin by a point. That came as a shock to me. They’ve beaten a good side because I really rate Dublin. They’re in the quarter-finals now, and you can imagine the confidence they’ll have.”
It will be a reunion of sorts, but old friendships will have to be cast aside for the 70 minutes.
When the smoke clears, Ó hAilpín concedes that Cork should win, regardless of injuries to himself, Jerry O’Connor, Shane O’Neill and Ronan Curran.
“What makes it even more interesting is that a couple of the Antrim back-room boys know us well.
“Jerry Wallace was our physical trainer for six or seven years and he’s the physical trainer in Antrim now.
“There’s also Bob Thornhill, who would have been a selector with a lot of Cork minor teams, and he’s now one of Dinny Cahill’s selectors in Antrim.
“We also have a few problems to deal with. Shane O’Neill went off on Saturday with a hamstring injury, Ronan Curran couldn’t play in extra-time because he got a bad bang on the thigh, Jerry O’Connor is still nursing a hamstring injury.
“I’m still nursing a hamstring injury. I’d be hopeful enough of playing. I’m on track for it.
“No disrespect to Antrim, but whether we have a full-strength team or we have a few guys from the subs bench coming in, we have to beat Antrim.
“If we don’t then we’ve no business even thinking about winning an All-Ireland.”
Meanwhile, Cork face Antrim in the All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park on Sunday with a 2pm throw-in, while the footballers play Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday night with a 7pm throw-in.
Article courtesy of the Evening Echo newspaper.