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Saturday 19 October 2019

Cork 'learned the hard way' from league struggles - Cooper

Bill Cooper believes you have to perform well during the league to maintain form
Bill Cooper believes you have to perform well during the league to maintain form

Cork's Bill Cooper believes teams still need to go 'hell for leather' during the Allianz Hurling League - despite the looming helter-skelter reality of the provincial round-robin series.

"I think you have to. We learned the hard way a few years ago, not having great form going though the league, and then it's very hard to turn it around," Cooper said at yesterday's NHL launch.

"Last year we struggled through the league and we were lucky enough to turn it around. We want to be more consistent than last year."

The Rebels endured a difficult spring in 2018, only preserving their Division 1A status after beating Waterford in a relegation play-off.

But they showed no initial ill-effects come summer, going unbeaten through the Munster round-robin group (with two victories and two draws) before defeating Clare in the provincial final.

Ultimately, however, Cork's season will forever be remembered for their semi-final extra-time heartbreak against Limerick - and especially for their surrender of a six-point lead in the home straight of normal time. "It still pops in the memory from time to time," Cooper admitted.

"It was a couple of tough weeks but, like anything, that's the beauty of it ... there can only be one winner ultimately, and the lows make the highs even better if you are lucky enough to win things."

Unravel

Where did it all unravel? "I suppose looking back and analysing the game from the outside, saying you are six points up - but when you look at it as a whole it is very fine margins," he reckoned.

"It's execution of the small things - I over-carried the ball once, you know, handy score.

"Hurling, I suppose why it's so exciting is because teams can rack up scores very quickly. I think a six-point lead isn't a massive lead any more, especially when teams are scoring maybe 30, 32, 35 points in a game. It's definitely something we've looked at and reviewed a little bit and will do going forward."

Even though players are stuck in the moment of big games, Cooper could still sense that dramatic shift in momentum.

"You can sense it the other way then too when you gain momentum. That's the ebb and flow of it, and I think that's why people love it. Definitely you can feel it," he said.

Of course, but for Nickie Quaid's pivotal save to deny Séamus Harnedy in the death-throes of normal-time, Limerick would not now be All-Ireland champions ... it might even be Cork.

"A stand-out play," Cooper winced. "It's very spectacular. It was a brilliant, brilliant block. That's sport ... you can't dwell on it for too long or else everything else will just pass you by.

"It's just about getting back on the horse for us really and trying to prepare well now for the game next weekend."

That's a trip to Nowlan Park and a tasty Division 1A opener against reigning league champions Kilkenny on Sunday.

Focus

"The Munster campaign is a long way away now, our whole focus now is on next weekend against Kilkenny and that's the only way you can approach it really," the Youghal man insisted.

And yet you cannot downplay the significance of those early summer weeks. Last year saw the early demise of Tipperary and Waterford, two heavyweights who failed to escape Munster's round-robin bear pit.

Therein lies the challenge - and the secret dread - for every Liam MacCarthy pretender.

"The competition is very strong and that's the big fear really, it's trying to get in the top three and get a crack at the All-Ireland series," Cooper conceded.

"The same way if there were six teams that could win the Premiership, then there would be more people watching the Premiership. That's sport, people want to see good quality, competitive and close games. The more of them the better, and hurling is all the better for that."

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