Cork manager Kieran Kingston has urged his players to eradicate costly lapses in concentration at key moments in big games — and he’s demanding a full 70- minute performance against Waterford at Walsh Park.
It’s a pivotal fixture in Division 1A of the Allianz Hurling League, with Cork one of four teams to collect two points from their opening three fixtures. That leaves the Rebels two behind their weekend opponents – and four adrift of pace-setters Tipperary.
Kingston says Cork have been punished for taking their eye off the ball twice in this year’s League campaign — in the first-half against Dublin and in the second period of Sunday’s defeat to Kilkenny.
Cork were level with the Cats on four occasions before conceding six points without reply between the 41st and 46th minutes at Nowlan Park.
And Kingston, having had time to digest that setback, reflected: “Firstly, I would have been happy with our performance and effort for the first 40 minutes of that game.
“We played against the breeze and were in a really strong position at half-time.I couldn’t fault our effort against that Kilkenny team on their home patch. We knew how difficult it would be going up there, and they needed the points as much, or even more so, than us.
“We had a chance of a goal to put us two points up but ended up with a point to level the game, and then we lost our shape for a 10-minute spell, similar to what happened against the Dubs.
“That cost us six points without reply but while we drew the rest of the game, we lost a man (Cormac Murphy) in the 60th minute and a bit of inexperience showed down the home straight. We started going for goals when there was no need to.
“Suddenly the game slipped away and while I was happy for the majority of it, I was disappointed when Kilkenny upped the ante, we lost our shape and concentration and let it slip away in that spell.” Cork have the chance to make up some ground against Waterford but it won’t be easy against a team that Kingston admires. He’s going down a route similar to that embarked upon by Waterford manager Derek McGrath in recent seasons, with a heavy emphasis on youth.
But Kingston acknowledged: “They have that couple of years behind them in that evolution and they have the foundation of an All-Ireland minor winning team in 2013, and the U21 team from last year that won the All-Ireland.
“We’re that little bit behind them from a time-frame perspective. Walsh Park is a tough place to go at any time, especially against a Waterford team who know that another victory in their last two games will guarantee a quarter-final spot.
“With four teams on two points, it’s becoming really competitive as you head into the last couple of games. Sunday is a big test for us, given the points situation at the moment.” Cork could badly do with some of their more established players stepping up to the mark against Waterford in the Walsh Cup cauldron.
And while Kingston has a clear vision of where he wants to take the team, he’s also conscious of picking up valuable results along the way.
He said: “Every team looks at its own weaknesses and you try to be the best that you can be for the present, with an eye on the future.
“That’s only good management practice but at the same time, you’re judged on results and we have to keep an eye on that and focus on that.
“We’re not looking beyond next Sunday from a performance perspective.
“What we need to look at are our strength and weaknesses, and what we can do as a team.
“But we need to get consistency of performance from game to game, and within games.
“We’ve seen that for a while now – that consistency is lacking from game to game but once we get that 70-minute performance, we’ll be happy. But we need to get there.
“At this level, and with Division 1A so tight, it’s almost like a round-robin championship. You can’t afford a lapse and away at Nowlan Park, you can’t give a smell like that to a team like Kilkenny.
“Performing for 70 minutes is our main task and where that leaves us then is secondary, as the result will take care of itself.”
Cork will be without injured trio Paul Haughney, Conor O’Sullivan and Robbie O’Flynn once again, while Daniel Kearney will face a late fitness test before a call is made on his participation.
Kingston added: “At Walsh Park, and with Waterford at home, we expect a real tense, hard battle against a team who, at this stage, are battle-hardened.”
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