In big games on the big stage, certain counties, certain teams, certain players get overawed and overwhelmed by the occasion.
But I don’t see that happening with Cork on Sunday. You get a sense that they feel this is their birthright. This is where Cork hurling belongs. This is their tradition.
While the majority of the panel has never played in an All-Ireland final before, the management team is stacked with people that have been there and done it in the red jersey. They will be driving that point home: ‘We’re Cork and we have that winning tradition. We’re the ones with 30 All-Irelands’.
Despite Limerick’s dominance in recent years, the Rebels’ management will be trying to hammer home the point that they are the ones who belong at the top, lifting silverware on the steps of the Hogan Stand.
The pain of the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final will still linger in this Cork group.
And there is a huge rivalry between the counties. The border is there. Kilmallock is a stone’s throw from Charleville. And the fact that Limerick are top dogs will not sit well on Lee-side.
They won’t lack for motivation, and crucially, they won’t lack for confidence and belief.
They must respect what Limerick bring, but I think they will try to find a way to play their own game. If they can get the ball into the hands of their forwards and get running at that Limerick defence, they can open anyone up.
But that’s the challenge. That’s what they didn’t do in the Munster semi-final. And against this Treaty side, it is not an easy thing to achieve.
Cork on an upward trajectory
There is no doubt that the Lee-siders have improved since when the sides met on July 3.
I felt that this is a team who was going to benefit from a run of games playing together, given the way they try and play. A bit of momentum brings with it cohesiveness and also an opportunity to settle on your starting 15.
There is no better example of that than Robert Downey. I thought Damien Cahalane played quite well against Limerick and didn’t make any mistakes. But Downey has been a revelation at full-back since winning the jersey. He has been rock-solid.
Kieran Kingston will also have to decide whether or not to keep his son Shane on the bench. The Douglas star was outstanding when introduced against Kilkenny, and made a strong case for inclusion in the starting team for the decider.
But having a forward on the bench who can turn a game can be crucial.
In 1997, David Forde was that player in my Clare team. He just had that ability to get to the pitch of the game straight away.
I would not be at all surprised if Cork were to keep Shane Kingston in reserve.
The management will have learned a lot from the Kilkenny victory. Alan Cadogan is another who came off the bench and made a difference. Damien Cahalane likewise.
Can Horgan finally get over the line?
Nobody is going to be more motivated on Sunday than Patrick Horgan.
There was a lot of talk after the Munster semi-final that he left 1-6 or so behind him. Granted, he missed the penalty and that came at a crucial stage in the contest.
But he only had one wide from play. And some of the frees that he missed were virtually from the next parish. It wasn’t as if they were simple balls that he was going to convert in his sleep.
I thought he shipped a bit of unfair criticism in that sense. But by his high standards, he expects to get those.
The Glen Rovers man will be conscious that these opportunities do not come around often. He was there in 2013 and narrowly missed out. But he is once again 70 minutes away from that elusive medal.
It would be the crowning glory for over a decade of fantastic service. A win on Sunday would see him cement his place alongside the greats of Cork hurling.
If he retires without a Celtic Cross, it will go down as an asterisk beside his name. Joe Canning had it held over him until he helped Galway to make the breakthrough in 2017.
Horgan will have to deal with extra pressure on Sunday, as he will be gunning to win an All-Ireland title. But that’s natural. Every player wants to win one!
Cork have to do a far better job of getting him the ball. That’s something they didn’t do seven weeks ago. He was starved of the sliotar that evening in Thurles, and had very few opportunities to do anything from general play.
He is only going to be as good as the service he gets. But I expect him to be really fired up on Sunday. We saw against Kilkenny, he was unmarkable at times.
If Cork manage to service him correctly on Sunday, he could do real damage.
Nonetheless, whatever way you dress it up, the Rebels have a major gap to bridge.
In their last meeting, Limerick hit 2-22, shot 20 wides, took four of their starting forwards off the field and still won by eight points. The Treaty have vastly improved since that match. So Cork still ground to make up.
But there is no doubt about it. It’s a much more confident Cork outfit. They feel better about themselves. They’ll relish Croke Park. They’ll relish the opportunity. But have they closed the gap sufficiently to give themselves a fighting chance?
Watch Cork vs Limerick in the All-Ireland final live on Sky Sports Arena from 2:30pm Sunday.
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