THE good news for Cork hurling is that the county championships were complete — just about — before the GAA introduced a self-imposed lockdown of all play.
The bad news is that the inter-county season is now under threat.
If these level-3 restrictions do not reduce the national Covid-19 infection rates, then the shortened championship that was to be shoehorned between the Halloween and Christmas holidays could go by the wayside.
Given how much everyone enjoyed these novel club championships, that would be a shame, as a curtailed championship would be something different, even if it was to be played out in less-than-ideal hurling conditions.
A delay of a couple of weeks might suit anyone recently injured, such as Castlelyons’ Colm Spillane, who cruelly injured a finger in the opening minute of his club’s Premier Intermediate final against Blarney. His absence had a huge bearing on that result, with a fired-up young Blarney side taking advantage of their opponents’ loss of their talisman.
The final scoreline, of 1-20 to 0-15, would suggest that Blarney were always likely to win, but Spillane’s injury was a sliding-doors moment, and it unsettled the east Cork side. It would have been a very different game had he played out the hour. Alas, Castlelyons will never know, while Blarney can concentrate on senior level, and their youthful squad is expected to kick on.
Another serious injury to Spillane would be a huge blow to Cork coach, Kieran Kingston’s plans for the next few months. He was missed from the full-back line last year, and he would have been expected to fill the No. 4 jersey against Waterford later this month.
Now, Kingston will have to plan with the same defenders who played in the defeats to Tipperary, Clare, and Kilkenny in last year’s championship. They were found wanting last year, so it remains to be seen where improvements can be made.
Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon shot the lights out for Blarney and Charleville in their respective county triumphs, while Fr O’Neill’s ace marksman, Declan Dalton, showed enough at senior A level to suggest that he must be an integral part of the Cork attack.
Given the assumption that Patrick Horgan, Seamus Harnedy, Alan Cadogan, Fitzgibbon, and Bill Cooper are certain starters in Cork’s front eight, if fit, there aren’t too many positions up for grabs. Dalton would appear to be fighting it out with Shane Kingston, Aidan Walsh, Robbie O’Flynn, and Conor Lehane for a couple of available roles.
Robert Downey had a quiet first half against the Rockies last weekend, but he was fantastic for the Glen for the final 50 minutes. This was another performance to suggest that he is the man to wear the Cork number six shirt.
Other options at centre-back emerged during this year’s excellent championship. Erin’s Own’s James O’Flynn has prospered since being deployed as his club side’s defensive linchpin, and he was particularly impressive in the win over Sarsfields, and it was noticeable how the semi-final against the Glen slipped away from the Glounthaune club’s grasp once he retired, injured, in the 27th minute.
Niall Cashman was the other stand-out centre-back in the championship, integral to Blackrock’s first county title since 2002. He has physical presence and the hurling to fill the jersey his father, Jim, proudly wore for Cork for so many years, but, unfortunately for him, the lack of practice matches is likely to ensure that Kingston does not risk dropping him into championship combat untested.
You could make an argument for many of Blackrock’s stars, and, indeed, for one or two of the Glen Rovers contingent, to be parachuted into the Cork set-up with immediate effect. Their physical, hard-working, direct style is perfect for this time of year, but you would imagine that it might not be until 2021 before the phone rings for some of them, in respect of Cork representation.
This could all be academic, though. The GAA world must take a temporary breather and hope the country is in a much better state in a few weeks’ time, as, otherwise, GAA fans may discover that their Christmas is cancelled.