The John Horgan column: All hail the hurlers who can play in any position

The John Horgan column: All hail the hurlers who can play in any position
Brian Corcoran of Cork in action against Dave Bennett of Waterford during the 1998 National Hurling League final at Semple Stadium in Thurles. Picture: Damien Eagers/SPORTSFILE

THESE days a GAA scribe’s first task on any match day is to try to work out who is playing where on both teams.

A couple of minutes might pass before he has it worked out and if a score is posted, a colleague might have to be asked who got it.

Rarely if ever now does the lineout of a team match the one that is given on the programme.

There used be a time when a player was named to start in one position he usually stayed there for most of the game unless he was replaced.

But there is so much chopping and changing now that it is difficult to keep up with it.

Players now have to be a lot more versatile too, being capable of filling in in a lot of positions around the field and maybe if required change from a defensive position to an offensive one.

Of course, that has been the case in the past too, a centre-back going up centre-forward or vice versa as an example.

Here on Leeside, we have had many instances of that, a player starting out in defence and ending up at the other end of the field altogether.

The greatest and most successful of that occurrence is Brian Corcoran and he has the unique distinction of being hugely successful at corner-back and centre-back before ending his glittering career at full-forward when Cork were last successful in Croke Park in 2004 and 2005.

In fact, it’s likely that the Erin’s Own man could have figured prominently in any position if called upon to do so, surely one of the great hurlers of any era.

There were other instances of Cork players making significant marks in different and pivotal positions.

All-Ireland wining captain of 1966, Gerald McCarthy is one of them, playing at wing-forward on that never to be forgotten triumph.

Fast forward to 1970 when Cork regained the McCarthy Cup and the outstanding Barrs man was centre-field.

He was still hugely influential there six later, the beginning of the three-in-a-row era for the county and he was centre-forward in the following two years, ’77 and ’78.

He was also more than capable of filling in in defence if required.

Willie Walsh from Youghal is another example of a player moving from one key position to another.

When Cork were beaten by Kilkenny in the 1969 All-Ireland final he was at centre-back having previously played at centre-forward.

Justin McCarthy was injured before that ’69 final and Walsh was deployed in the number six jersey and a year later when that defeat was made up for when the Rebels defeated Wexford in the first 80-minute final he was back in the number 11 jersey.

He was, without doubt, one of the best centre-forwards ever to wear a Cork jersey, teak-tough and that was his best position by far.

Walsh’s Youghal clubmate, Paddy Hegarty was another player who was hugely effective both in defence and in attack.

Glen Rovers’ Pat Horgan, a player who definitely deserved to win a Celtic Cross but didn’t, was another player who played in defence and attack, far more prominently in the latter where he was an All-Star in 1980 and ’82.

Across the GAA landscape there have been instances of players being very successful when deployed to a position that they were not overly familiar with.

One case springs easily to mind and that was Offaly’s Brian Whelehan, a player who was named in the Hurling Team of the Millennium.

He was a very doubtful starter for the Faithful County in the 1998 All-Ireland final because of flu but lined out in his customary wing-back slot where he was not making a great impact.

However, a masterstroke by the selectors worked the oracle in a way nobody could really have imagined when they put him up full-forward for the second half where he made a massive difference and he actually won the man of the match award.

Of course, it’s often said that a good hurler can play anywhere and where some of the aforementioned are concerned that was the case.

There are plenty of others too.

Players in specialist positions, full-back, centre-back, centre-forward and full-forward are crucial to any team and it’s nearly an imperative on an inter-county team that those positions, particularly the defensive ones ae nailed down and that you have stability there.

But at the same time, a versatile player is worth his weight in gold too, being able to shift from one position to another maybe at a vital stage in the match, a change that might be the winning of the game.

Yes, one has to be on the ball now to keep up with all the changes that are made before and during a match.

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