Moving Mark Coleman up the pitch could prove a cut above for the Cork hurlers

Moving Mark Coleman up the pitch could prove a cut above for the Cork hurlers

Mark Coleman has had some big games for UCC. Picture: Sportsfile

THE madness for scores goes on in the GAA in general, and especially last weekend in inter-county hurling.

Limerick and Dublin both hit more than 30 actual points in beating Clare and Laois.

Right through the summer in Cork club teams seemed to hit well into the 20s and 30s every weekend.

It was interesting to look through the top scorers in club championship here and mostly spot the expected.

There in Premier Senior were Alan Connolly and Patrick Horgan.

At Senior A, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Declan Dalton. And at Premier Intermediate, with a little clue as to what we might have to look forward to, Mark Coleman, with 1-50 in six games.

Sometimes there are moments in ordinary club games where an inter-county player does something that little bit extra special that makes that difference in quality and ability obvious.

Often in hurling it’s a speed thing, where a player executes a skill or simply has that burst of pace to make room for himself that nobody else can live with.

In the Premier Intermediate county final against Castlelyons, Coleman did that over and over again. Early on he had a sideline (which by the way have become an event in themselves, more on that shortly) on the left and you could see him have a look around to check before he placed the ball, then again as he stepped up, then he slipped a little ground pass for a runner, took the return and banged over the bar from the wing.

Shortly afterwards a ball ran loose for Coleman to just snap into his hand on the run and clip over.

In the second half, a ball popped into the air around a ruck of players and Coleman just tapped it past a few bodies into space for him to run onto and clip another point on the run off his right again, like a player playing a different game at a different level to everyone else.

He keeps adding these big moments and plays.

In the Fitzgibbon Cup semi-final way back in early 2020 he lined up a sideline way out on that left-wing in injury-time with the teams level and with basically a huge wind blowing across the pitch.

Picture: INPHO
Picture: INPHO

He nailed it with the sweetest of strikes and afterwards Coleman played down the feat, suggesting it’d take him another hundred shots to get another of those and pointing out that he hadn’t even been practising them really at that time of year.

One Blarney club person told us a few years ago about opening the pitches for the young lads to puck around whenever they wanted, about Coleman and a bunch of friends having competitions to take shots and cuts off the ground from all angles and distances and spending a lot of summer teenage days down the GAA field.

It didn’t happen by accident. Neither did all the scores from play, though, for Blarney in the club championship, a deliberate usage by the club of their most potent player on the ball in a position where he can influence the game as much as possible.

There are wider issues here for Cork to consider. Chance creation generally hasn’t been an issue in championship and some form of combination of Patrick Horgan, Alan Cadogan, Conor Lehane, Shane Kingston, Declan Dalton shouldn’t lack for finishing or the technical nature of forward play or basic scores.

Getting them on the ball in the right areas at the right time in big games has been a problem, so shifting the ball into those scoring zones needs work.

The lack of Darragh Fitgibbon creates another absence of scores and legs to open spaces from that middle third. Coleman is the obvious one to become the main link from midfield to attack.

Blarney's Mark Coleman shoots from Castlelyons Colm O'Neill. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Blarney's Mark Coleman shoots from Castlelyons Colm O'Neill. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Nobody passed more with the hurley than Cork last year and he has that obvious skillset to make that type of sharp passing work.

In some ways he’s the traditional Cork hurler, with the classy wrists and stickwork and those long arcing sidelines and the ability to jink and pick his way out of tight areas with movement and ball control.

He can run onto loose ball and carry it through the middle third. He has those long diagonals in his locker and Cork might well think that getting Coleman on the ball as much as possible from whatever position on the field can be a major part of what they’re trying to do.

Scores as well ought to be a target. In 2018 Coleman scored 0-2 in each of the last three games of the year.

Last summer he had just 0-3 in total in championship. Long-range scoring has taken the scoring averages per game way up and Cork will need willing shooters and able scorers from that middle third to supplement the expected totals that Horgan and the others can rack up.

There’s this ongoing debate about hurling and whether scoring is too easy now and where exactly Cork fits into that whole concept of what will and won’t work to win games and win an All-Ireland.

Four of the five games from the quarter-finals on last year had winners who shot over 30 points in total. 

Mark Coleman taking a sideline. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Mark Coleman taking a sideline. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Open shootouts might sound great in theory for Cork, but it doesn’t solve the ongoing issue with not being able to cope with the squeeze in intensity and physicality against the top sides, or games slipping away when they lose control of the middle third flow of possession.

It seems like another year of that constant balance between whether Cork can win every game in this open way of scoring as much as possible or whether they will have to/are able to win differently when the circumstances differ.

It feels like Coleman is key to either gameplan as the main game-breaker in the middle third and he might just be a player on the verge of another step up.

Cork have possible bolters if the campaign stretches. Shane Kingston is another who might well explode if the Cork attack can fire.

Let’s hope we get enough games to find out.

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