By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — As the buildup to Sunday’s eagerly awaited All-Ireland hurling final between Cork and Kilkenny intensifies, Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy has expressed confidence about the way his young and inexperienced players are coping with the pressure.
Only Brian Corcoran played in 1992 when Cork last ran out at Croke Park in September, but Barry-Murphy is not too worried.
"They’ve trained very hard since the semifinal and they seem to be enjoying the whole experience," he said. "Beating Offaly was a major lift for us. None of us could be sure how the players would react to such a big occasion."
Cork captain Mark Landers, who had surgery on a damaged knee cartilage three weeks ago, came through a challenge game last Saturday and will be fit to take his place at midfield if selected.
The Leesiders’ other selection dilemma concerns 19-year-old Neil Ronan, who started against Waterford, Clare and Offaly. Ronan was replaced in the last two games and is now under pressure from Alan Browne and Kevin Murray. It seems as if Browne will get the vote this time in the forward line.
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Kilkenny, meanwhile, are set to name the same 15 that started in the semifinal victory over Clare. Pat O’Neill, who replaced the injured Eamonn Kennedy, before the throw-in, should hold his place at center-back and Ken O’Shea is likely to hold off Niall Moloney and P.J. Delaney for one of the corner forward spots.
Kilkenny go into the game as slight favorites. Experience in most areas of the team and the striking power of D.J. Carey, Charlie Carter and Henry Shefflin sway the balance toward the Leinster champions.
Cork also have talented forwards in Joe Deane and Diarmuid O’Sullivan, but they will find it hard to match the likes of Willie O’Connor, Carey and O’Neill ,who already have a couple of All Ireland winners medals each.
Kilkenny’s defeat in last season’s decider may be just the spur Brian Cody’s men need on Sunday. Barry-Murphy and company may have to wait another year.