Henry Shefflin says Patrick Horgan and Jack O'Connor's ability to win 50-50 balls against a hardened Kilkenny defence will be key to Cork's chances in Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final.
Inside forwards Horgan and O’Connor have scored a combined 1-33 in their last three championship matches, with Shefflin hailing O’Connor’s "electrifying" performance in last weekend’s quarter-final win over Dublin.
However, the Kilkenny legend questioned how the pair will cope should the Cats limit the supply of quality ball.
We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
Speaking on the RTÉ GAA Podcast, Shefflin said: "Kieran Kingston and Diarmuid O’Sullivan have done a great job. They’ve got that bit of steel and resilience that wasn’t there in 2018 and 2019. They have definitely improved.
"Watching O’Connor on Saturday night, he’s electrifying. He’ll bring something different and new, and then you’ve the experience of Horgan, who is coming back into form.
"The big thing for me is, when Cork are training they’re playing with two inside, they want to give nice ball, the defenders are marking O’Connor and Horgan and they’re spinning out to the wings.
"When they come up against Kilkenny and TJ (Reid) is coming after you - or Billy Ryan or Adrian Mullen - the delivery into your forwards is going to be under a lot more pressure.
"That’s going to be the big question - can O’Connor and Horgan win that 50-50 ball.
"Knowing Kilkenny and what’s taking place in their training base, they’d be more used to that ball. That’ll be one of the interesting facets."
Cork have won seven of their last 25 league and championship matches against Kilkenny but Shane Dowling doesn’t believe that will faze the players heading into Sunday’s game.
"All we heard about in Limerick for a long time was 1973 (their last All-Ireland win prior to 2018)," said Dowling.
"I don’t believe in this type of stuff. That’s what we’ve done well in Limerick in recent years, all those numbers are a waste of time. We have to create our own history.
"And it’s up to these Cork players to create their own history. It is well spoken about that they’re on the crest of a wave, the Cork noise is back.
"But you look at someone like O’Connor, who is freakish in terms of his pace. If you go back to the 2007 All-Ireland final where Seamus Hickey was a young, green corner-back for Limerick. Who went in on top of him? Eddie Brennan. Before you knew it, it was nearly game over.
"I’d be fairly surprised if O’Connor didn’t get a clip or two early on, as well as other Cork players.
"If Kilkenny can bring the physicality element to it, like they did against Limerick two years ago, there’s only going to be one winner. But I don’t think it’s going to be that straightforward. Cork are the fastest team in the country and above in Croke Park, they can utilise that. Their pace is incredible."
While impressed with Cork’s performances this summer, Shefflin believes Kilkenny have enough in the tank to reach a second All-Ireland final in three years.
"It’s a short turnaround again for Cork," said Shefflin. "Kilkenny are improving steadily, the confidence is growing and panel is getting stronger. I’ll think they’ll have too much."
We need your consent to load this SoundCloud contentWe use SoundCloud to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
Follow the All-Ireland senior hurling championship semi-finals this weekend with our live blogs on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app.
Watch Limerick v Waterford live on RTÉ2 or RTÉ Player from 4pm Saturday, and Kilkenny v Cork live on RTÉ2 or RTÉ Player from 2.30pm Sunday.
Watch highlights of all the weekend's action on The Sunday Game at 9.30pm on RTÉ2.
Listen to live and exclusive national radio commentaries on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday and Sunday Sport.