Modern hurlers are versatile enough to play many roles for club and county

Modern hurlers are versatile enough to play many roles for club and county
Mary Immaculate College's Tim O'Mahony with IT Carlow's Sean Downey. O'Mahony can operate in multiple positions. Picture: INPHO/Tom O'Hanlon

IT’S a quirk of the GAA that players can play in more than one position.

Kilkenny’s Tommy Walsh is the gold standard, winning All-Star awards at midfield, at full-back, and at half-forward in consecutive years, before settling at wing-back and collecting six more on the trot.

Éanna Martin, of Wexford, has played in every line of the pitch for his county, including in goal, and now operates as the county’s commercial manager; going back in time, Galway’s Seán Purcell was a real footballing all-rounder, playing a number of spots, usually central.

In rugby, a prop might be able to play hooker or a winger can also fill in at full-back, but there’s more specialisation; similarly, a left-back in soccer is unlikely to ever have to line out at centre-forward.

The ability to move around the pitch is because both football and hurling have become possession games and set positions matter less than before; and many inter-county players will be operating at centre-back, midfield, or centre-forward for their clubs anyway, so their county role is often a deviation from their ‘natural’ spot.

For Cork, the most famous nomadic player is Brian Corcoran. Hurler of the year as a teenage corner-back, in 1992, he repeated the feat seven years later, at centre-back, as Cork won the All-Ireland hurling title.

Cork's Brian Corcoran taking on Kilkenny in 1999. Picture: Dan Linehan
Cork's Brian Corcoran taking on Kilkenny in 1999. Picture: Dan Linehan

While he retired after the 2001 championship, he returned in 2004, albeit at full-forward, and collected two more Celtic Crosses. He was an adept footballer, too, playing at left corner-back and kicking a point in the 1993 All-Ireland final defeat to Derry.

In recent years, Daniel Kearney was repurposed from a midfielder to a wing-forward, putting in a series of good performances last year to earn an All-Star nomination.

Cork now lack a player like that, who can operate almost as a third midfielder, but who can also chip in with three or four points per game.

However, notwithstanding Kearney’s absence, the Cork management have been experimenting this year.

Robert Downey, full-forward on the Cork minor team that reached the All-Ireland final in 2017, came into the senior side as a wing-back last year, but impressed at full-back as UCC won the Fitzgibbon Cup — under Tom Kingston, brother of Cork boss, Kieran — and he has featured there and at centre-back in the national league.

Mark Coleman’s sideline cut won the Fitz for UCC, with midfield his siting for the college, and he is being considered for that position at county level.

Making the opposite journey to Coleman, midfield to the half-back line, is a possibility for Bill Cooper, though one wonders if Cork are losing more than they are gaining by not having him in the middle.

However, that loss could be offset if another UCC man, Darragh Fitzgibbon — often deployed in the half-forward line — can form a successful partnership with Coleman.

Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Someone chosen in the half-forward line this year, having been a roving corner-forward at times in 2019, is Aidan Walsh (above) — who was Daniel Kearney’s midfield partner during the middle part of the last decade — while Tim O’Mahony has spent the last three league campaigns in the half-back line, but, for the past two years, come championship, he has found himself in midfield and upfront.

There is an argument that giving players different roles helps their all-round games — Ajax do this so that schoolboy players can better appreciate what their team-mates are doing and the challenges they face — but if a player is shunted around too much, he runs the risk of not being able to make a particular spot his own.

Defeat to Galway on Sunday ended Cork’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages of Division 1 of the Allianz HL and we don’t yet know what the championship 15 would be.

That’s not necessarily a cause for crisis, given that the Munster championship is also run on a round-robin basis and mid-campaign changes are to be expected, if not essential. And perhaps the versatility of the players will stand to them come the summer.

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