Bill Cooper needed a tonic to soothe his All-Ireland SHC semi-final pain last summer.

Cork's narrow defeat to Limerick in a terrific last-four battle was, he admits, incredibly hard to take. 

But the autumn delivered a welcome pick-me-up.

Cooper was at the heart of Imokilly's drive to the Cork SHC title, playing his part as a formidable side - which included Seamus Harnedy, Paudie O’Sullivan and Colm Spillane - swept past Midleton at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the decider.

Ending the year with a winner's medal in his pocket helped Cooper no end. Now, he's ready to go again.

"It was very disappointing really," he said of the loss to Limerick. 

"You go away, lick your wounds and come back with an added energy to try and go one step further.

"We’ve a lot of learnings to take from it. It was bitterly disappointing, there’s no two ways about it. It was a very, very hard couple of weeks after it but, to be fair to Limerick, the best team won.

"That’s the way it is in sport, we have to hold our hands up. We’d no excuses. We will look back on it and say we could have done things differently but when the dust settles, that’s sport. That’s the beauty of it."

Imokilly proved to be a sanctuary.

"Yeah, it did help," he adds. "We’d a strong team. It was my first year, it was a double for some lads. We finished the year positively anyway. It was good."

Cork begin their Division 1A campaign against Kilkenny this weekend. It will be the start of another year of breathtakingly competitive hurling.

A breather in April, and preparations really ramp up for a Munster championship that delivered epic after epic last year.

"[The margins] are very tight, he said. "Any one of six to eight teams can beat each other on a given day. The results showed that last year. Every game, there’s a couple of points in it. That’s the reason you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. It’s very much a game-by-game approach.

"Our focus was on a challenge game with UL last week, and now it’s shifted on to Kilkenny. That’s the way we approach it, even in the championship. You just can’t look too far ahead. It’s all about the league game this weekend.

"It's really fine margins and it's the same for everybody; everybody is trying to find that small few percent.

"It's very important when you are playing inter-county to have that motivation to try and ultimately win an All-Ireland, but it's the same for everybody and I suppose and that's what is probably driving the competition, that so many counties feel like they could go all the way.

"It's brilliant for spectators." 

Cooper first came on to the Rebels panel back in 2011, when Denis Walsh was at the helm. A back disc problem ruled him out of the 2012 and '13 seasons but he came back into the fold in 2014 and has been a mainstay ever since.

The 31-year-old Youghal man has seen plenty of changes in his time. After a frustrating couple of years, he believes a rising generation of talent is breathing new life into the side, not least his midfield companion Darragh Fitzgibbon [above].

"Darragh is ferociously talented, a great, great player and brilliant to play with. But the likes of Mark Coleman and Shane Kingston, Robbie O'Flynn, Tim O'Mahoney, lads like that, they are really very good players as well.

"Even this year over the winter there were lads from the Under-17 team a couple years ago brought in, so there is more competition and that can only be good. 

"As you get a bit older and a bit more experienced you try to make incremental changes to keep improving. In the last couple of years, with the younger lads who’ve come into the squad, they’ve been a breath of fresh air.

"You can see it from the Under-21s the last couple of years, they’re incredibly talented players. That breathes an extra bit of motivation and competition in to the whole squad."

Is Cork hurling on a positive trajectory?

"Definitely. In 2014, when I came back in, we won Munster and then we’d a couple of disappointing years  for different reasons: lads had a lack of form, and it’s so tight as well you can lose a couple of games and it’s very hard to turn things around.

"That’s why the league is very important. You can gain a bit of form and maybe find a couple of players and bring it on to get that consistency, bring that in to the Championship.

"That’s what happened us in 2015, 2016. We came out on the wrong side of a few results early on in the year and then it’s very hard to turn it around."

Fourteen years without an All-Ireland hurling title, Cork have not endured a wait this long in a hundred years.

The quest to end the wait starts now.