JUST before the hour mark in the recent thrashing of Louth little did Cork boss Ronan McCarthy know that he was about to make his last substitution of a long and drawn out league campaign.
He handed Kiskeam defender Sean Meehan, centre-back on the All-Ireland U20 winning side last season, his senior debut in place of Killian O’Hanlon, who started centre-forward.
By that stage Cork had raced to a 5-14 to 0-12 lead and the destination of the points wasn’t an issue as the Rebels were on their way to the Division 3 title and promotion to the second tier next year.
Meehan became the 39th player to be used by McCarthy and his management team, who would have been keen to make Brian Hurley number 40 if the concluding game against Longford hadn’t been conceded by the midland county yesterday.
One of several issues facing Cork going into their next game, the Munster semi-final against Kerry at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday week, is Hurley’s lack of inter-county action in 2020.
Granted, he helped steer his club Castlehaven to the county premier senior football final against Nemo Rangers, to be played next March apparently, but such an absence in the Cork jersey must be a concern.
The inclusion of Douglas’s Kevin Flahive and Kanturk’s Paul Walsh against Louth brought to 29 the number of players who started for Cork in their six appearances in the league this term.
And the quartet plucked from the bench, apart from Meehan, helped raise the number of players seen by McCarthy and company to that 39 figure.
Hurley’s club colleague, Mark Collins, finished as top scorer in the game with 1-5 while the Douglas pair of Nathan Walsh and Niall Hartnett also saw action.
For defender Walsh, it was his first outing since a serious hamstring injury suffered in the big McGrath Cup win over Kerry back in December.
Hartnett was still in school at CBC at that stage, a sixth-year student captaining the Dr Harty Cup team, which reached the final.
Younger brother of Brian, who was a star in the U20 success last season and also made his senior debut in the league, Niall played with the Cork minors in 2018, losing to an injury-time point in a 1-11 to 1-10 loss to Kerry in Tralee.
Cork had been looking forward to completing a perfect record in Division 3 until Longford waved the white flag.
“You rarely see a team going through a league and winning all their matches,” McCarthy said after the Louth game.
The table shows Cork with 14 points from seven games, but, no doubt historians will ensure there’s an asterisk attached to signal Cork received a walk-over.
Now, it’s all eyes on the visit of Kerry though for Liam O’Donovan, Tomás Clancy, Ciarán Sheehan and Kevin Crowley their 2020 season is finished because of injuries.
“We had a few players who were tight on the Thursday before the Louth game and we couldn’t risk them, like Brian Hurley, for example.
“Any sort of strain would put you of the Kerry game, so we don’t take the chance.”
McCarthy explained the reasoning for introducing the likes of Meehan and Hartnett to the squad.
“What we have done is bring players in for a few weeks’ training with the panel and to expose them to what’s involved with a county team.
“They’re also exposed to Cian O’Neill and Kevin Smith and the quality of their work as coaches.
“The thinking is that for a new season, when they come in it wouldn’t be as strange for them and they’d have a realistic chance of making the panel and the team.
“I wouldn’t rule out a bolter from a new player making the breakthrough, but it’s probably unlikely.”
The manager spoke enthusiastically about the new club championship format in assessing players.
“Overall, it was great because we were able to get around to a lot of games.
“Sean Hayes, Gary O’Halloran and myself saw a lot of players, some of whom might offer something in the future, be it for this current management team or other management teams.
“The format gave us the opportunity to see most teams in all the different grades.”