Knock-out stage was always our target, says Shane O’Neill

Cork v Tipperary
Tomorrow: Pairc Ui Rinn, 2pm

It could have been a draw and it might have been a defeat, but Cork held out for the win last Sunday in Salthill, and Shane O’Neill was honest about what it meant.

“Getting a win in Salthill was great,” said the Bishopstown man.

“In my time playing with Cork we haven’t often had much luck up there. In fact, going back over 10 or 20 years it’s always been a tough place for Cork to get a win, so we were delighted with the way it went.”

It’s a fair turnaround.

A few weeks ago the Rebel supporters were despondent after a home defeat on the opening night of the league against Kilkenny. Now the Cats are staring relegation in the face and Cork have three victories back to back. O’Neill sees a tangible benefit in their involvement in the sharp end of the competition.

“Given where we were the first night, that loss to Kilkenny, coming back with three wins on the spin keeps us away from the relegation zone and puts us on course for another game in the quarter-final. That’s a massive boost for us, because it definitely helps you to have those later games when you’re looking at the championship.

“In our case we’re playing Waterford in the Munster semi-final this year and you could have a long wait for that game if the league went badly. Last year we had a quarter-final against them and a replay, so you had two full championship games played before taking on Clare in the semi-final, which was obviously an advantage.

“Because of that it was always a target for us, to make the knock-out stages of the league so that we’d have games as late as possible before the championship.”

The championship ended badly for Cork last year, of course, hammered by Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final.

O’Neill plays down the significance of the reunion in Páirc Uí Rinn tomorrow.

“It’s a league game, not a Munster final, obviously there’s a lot at stake in terms of what you can get out of it for the league, but I wouldn’t overstate it given what happened last year in the championship.

“The (All-Ireland) semi-final last year was a disappointment for us all, individually and as a team. We’d be conscious we left the supporters down, it was such a big occasion and there was so much expectation after 2013.

“But that said I wouldn’t see it having a huge impact on tomorrow. That’s a game on its own merits.”

The league doesn’t always get a kind press, but O’Neill points to benefits Cork have drawn from this campaign.

“Everyone’s main objective nowadays in Division 1A is to get a few decent games under their belt because it’s so competitive. Going back the years, when it wasn’t as competitive, teams probably tried out a few new players, or they tried different things tactically, in the league. Now, though, there aren’t enough games.

“Having said that, though, it’s still early in the year to be reading a lot into them. Go back two years ago and we were relegated, and Clare nearly relegated, and the two of us were in the All-Ireland final a few months later.

“Cormac Murphy is going well, so is Conor O’Sullivan, Rob O’Shea is coming into the picture. They’re not new players in that they’ve been with UCC, they’ve been on the panel, but they’re pushing hard for places now. You could even say the likes of Luke O’Farrell and Paudie O’Sullivan are almost like new players because they’re back and fully fit after injury — they’ve been there already as well but that all adds to the competition all over the field. The downside is (Christopher) Joyce’s injury, which is desperate for him because he was going so well, and even with him being out there’s still huge competition there — in the full-back line especially.”


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