ONE of the big takeaways from the opening rounds of the club series was that the hurlers most likely to occupy the defensive berths in Cork’s full-back line for the Munster Championship are all currently playing well away from their own goal.
It is to be expected, in a way. To paraphrase Patrick Swayze in THAT 1980’s teen movie classic, nobody puts inter-county players in the corner.
When a club side has the good fortune of having an inter-county standard hurler amongst their ranks then they are going to look to maximise the influence that this player has on proceedings.
It is not rocket science to acknowledge that the best way for these players to stamp their authority on a game is to do so from one of the pivotal positions such as centre back, midfield or centre forward.
This is pretty much what has happened in recent weeks.
Colm Spillane, Eoin Cadogan, Niall O’Leary and Sean O’Donoghue all played away from their normal full-back line berths.
Spillane and O’Donoghue lined out in attack for Castlelyons and Inniscarra respectively, with both being the spearhead of their club’s attacks from the centre forward position.
Spillane was the more eye-catching of the two, with his 2-12 scored from play against Blackrock and Blarney, but both performed key leadership roles for their sides.
Cadogan and O’Leary were employed in their respective half back lines for Douglas and Castlelyons, so they still retained some defensive duties, but a player defends very differently in the half-back line then the way he would in the full-back line.
Glen Rovers’ Robert Downey may well end up being Cork’s centre-back come the championship, but he could well see action at full-back at some stage as well.
He plays at wing-back for the Glen though, so he is another player who plays in a different role at club level to what he does at inter-county level.
The worry would be that when these players do end up throwing on the red two, three or four jerseys, in a couple of months time, that they will not be battle-hardened with respect of the dark arts of full-back play.
It is difficult to switch on the mindset required re tight marking, getting in flicks, hooks and blocks, etc. To go from playing in a half-back or half-forward line at club level to suddenly be putting the shackles on the most dangerous hurling attackers in the whole country is a big leap.
Of course, this is not exactly a new phenomenon to Cork hurling. The last Cork side to win an All-Ireland had a full-back line of Brian Murphy, Diarmuid O’Sullivan and Pat Mulcahy.
It was a quality rearguard, for sure, but all three would have played most of their club hurling further upfield. Murphy and Mulcahy were usually deployed as centre-backs by Bride Rovers and Newtown, and the Rock often played at centre forward for Cloyne, as Killian Cronin and Maurice Cahill anchored Cloyne’s defence.
It did not hurt Cork’s credentials in 2005, but it cannot be ideal prep for your top defenders to well, be not defending.
The same issue is in play when you look at Cork’s up and coming defenders.
Sean O’Leary-Hayes, James Keating, Conor O’Callaghan and Eoin Roche occupied the full-back positions in last year’s U20 campaign yet they all play further up the pitch at club level as well.
The only defender in contention for a place on the Cork team, who is an out and out defender, regularly minding the house for Fr O’Neill’s and Imokilly, is Ger Millerick.
Millerick is a great man-marker, but he is currently too busy trying to clear up a persistent back injury to be considered a possible solution to Cork’s defensive issues.
Some Cork players further forward also play in slightly different roles at club level.
Bill Cooper plays in the half-forward line for Youghal, for instance, but the difference in mindset in playing midfield and half-forward is not as big as the full-back line and pretty much anywhere else in hurling.
Unfortunately, there is no real solution to this issue. Certainly, clubs cannot be expected to position their inter-county men in their inter-county positions just to benefit Cork.
That would be unfair on the clubs. It will just have to remain that strange anomaly where very specialist positions are occupied by non-specialists.