THE Cork hurling management are reviewing the national league campaign, which didn’t light too many fires.
Two wins, three losses, and the team failing to reach the knockout stages did not represent a good innings, but a number of things have to be factored in when assessing the campaign.
The margin of defeat in the loss to Waterford was just a point, on a day in Walsh Park when there were 17 wides.
Last Sunday, in Salthill, Cork were still in the game at the end of regulation time, until Galway went clear in time-added-on
A number of key Cork players have been absent, mostly because of injuries, while Damien Cahalane, who was hurling very well, was suspended for the Limerick and Galway games.
In the game against Limerick, 10 players on the starting 15 were 23 or under. They were Pa Collins, Sean O’Leary-Hayes, Tim O’Mahony, Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitz, Robbie O’Flynn, Luke Meade, Shane Kingston, and Deccie Dalton.
There have been long-term injuries to Stephen McDonnell and Ger Millerick, Alan Cadogan’s absence has been immense, while Sean O’Donoghue, Rob Downey, Michael O’Halloran, and Dalton have been injured at various times, too.
Eoghan Murphy, from Sars, has also been unavailable through injury. And you also had the involvement of the UCC contingent right through to the Fitzgibbon Cup final.
Of course, some of the league performances have been poor or inconsistent.
And, let’s be honest, inconsistency has plagued this team for some time now, from one game to the next and within games.
There have been too many periods in games when the team has gone without registering any type of score, while finishing out games has been a problem too.
The management will be fully aware of all those things and, no doubt, will be addressing them between now and the championship opener, against Limerick.
There will be an awareness, too, that some players have not been playing to the level that they are very much capable of, but, again, form can be temporary and there’s plenty of time to get that right between now and May 10th, when John Kiely brings his Limerick troops to town.
The big positive from the league campaign was that goals were scored in every outing: 11 from the five games.
That’s a healthy return, much more so than had been the case.
Shane Kingston has been the standout forward, scoring 3-6 from play in three starts, while he has also been winning plenty of frees.
Ninety five percent of those frees were converted by Patrick Horgan, who remains the key player in this team. The lack of scores from open play has to be a concern, but the period between now and the championship presents the opportunity to address those matters.
It’s unlikely, now, that there will be any additions to the squad and the expectation is that the starting 15 won’t be altered to any great extent from last season.
Danny Kearney’s decision to opt out of the plans was a blow, because he still had a lot to offer this Cork set-up, mainly because of his industry and versatility. Tim O’Mahony scored a cracking goal last Sunday, in Salthill, taking on the responsibility to come up the field and drill home.
He has been the subject of a lot of debate regarding his best position on the team. Is he better-suited to a defensive or offensive position?
He has the ability to fit into both, but stability in one position is important.
Defensively, as far as having more options, both in personnel and positioning, Cork look to be in a good place, but it’s very important that key spots are nailed down, centre-back being the obvious one.
Up-front, Horgan, Seamus Harnedy, Conor Lehane, Alan Cadogan, and Shane Kingston have to be in pole position to start, with the ball-winning ability of Aidan Walsh coming into play as well. He took the ball out of the sky against Limerick and delivered a fine goal.
And he could be moved around, too, in the attack, if the need arose.
Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon are certainties to start and the team going into the championship could be a very experienced one.
Cork will go into the Munster championship as outsiders to win, but that’s no longer a priority, with the new format.
Being one of the three teams that will enter the All-Ireland series is the only show in town in the early summer.
We have seen Waterford fail to do so in the past two years; Clare, too, and Tipperary.
From what we have seen in the league, to date it’s going to be even harder this year to get one of those three coveted spots, given how Clare and Waterford have performed.
Cork’s opener against Limerick carries tons of significance and a loss there and the pressure intensifies.
Of course, Cork lost to Tipp last season, but bounced back one week later to put in their best display of the year, against Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds, but that first game is vital, with trips to Walsh Park and Thurles following
One thing is for sure, the Munster championship this season is going to be ultra-competitive with the margin for error considerably reduced
For Cork, the league is done. There are over two months now to get all the ducks in a row for the months of May and June.