Debate continues over Tim O'Mahony's best position for the Cork hurlers

Debate continues over Tim O'Mahony's best position for the Cork hurlers
Cork's Tim O'Mahony is tackled by Waterford's Jamie Barron in the Páirc last summer. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

CORK’S national hurling league interest ended on March 1, with a 2-18 to 1-16 defeat away to Galway. But Cork’s campaign created more issues than it resolved.

Tim O'Mahony tackling Robert Downey in a club game last year.
Tim O'Mahony tackling Robert Downey in a club game last year.

One of those is the conundrum that is Tim O’Mahony.

Is the Newtownshandrum man a defender? Is he a midfielder? Or is he a forward?

The league campaign did little to answer these questions.

O’Mahony, who is a forward at club level, was tried for Cork as a defender in 2019, but after an uncomfortable 70 minutes in the opening championship fixture, against Tipperary, the experiment was abandoned.

He was a peripheral figure for the remainder of the championship, although he had an impressive cameo performance, in midfield, in the quarter-final defeat to Kilkenny, at Croke Park.

The assumption was that O’Mahony would henceforth play in midfield, but Kieran Kingston, reappointed as Cork manager, has again experimented with O’Mahony as a defender.

O’Mahony started at centre back against Waterford, in the opening round, and he again wore the six shirt in the second round, against Tipperary, although he had to retire from the game, injured, after only 25 minutes.

In round three, away to Westmeath, he lined up at right wing-back, even clipping over a sideline cut for good measure, and while he retained the number five shirt for the narrow home defeat to Limerick, the Newtown man swapped this jersey for six again, for the last game against Galway, when Cork’s league involvement was ended with a five-point defeat.

Galway's Brian Concannon and Tim O'Mahony of Cork. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Galway's Brian Concannon and Tim O'Mahony of Cork. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

In a way, it is understandable that O’Mahony was tried again in the half-back line.

At the start of the league, there was still no obvious centre back.

Mark Ellis was not available and Bill Cooper was also tried in the role, but other than those two, there weren’t many experienced options for such a pivotal position.

Therefore, it would have been remiss of Kingston and his management team not to have explored every option here, including O’Mahony.

They could not possibly have known that Glen Rovers’ Robert Downey would have had a blistering start to the year, both in the UCC colours during their Fitzgibbon Cup-winning run, and in the colours of Cork, either at full-back or centre-back.

Downey is still only 20, but he would appear to be the best available candidate to occupy the Cork six shirt. He has definitely added more bulk to his 6ft 7” frame and has that bit of cutting needed to anchor a defence.

There are also ample options available for the two wing-back berths, so you could easily argue that O’Mahony is not required at all in the half-back line.

Chris O’Leary and Damian Cahalane impressed in their run-outs on the wings, and Mark Coleman could easily revert back to his usual wing-back spot.

Sean O’Leary-Hayes and Christopher Joyce are other options in this line, while Billy Hennessy and Ger Millerick did not see any game time in this year’s league, but could still be candidates.

O’Mahony bagged 1-1 against Galway when he moved into a midfield role.

He is definitely an option in the middle, although, given Cork’s travails in the ball-winning department in the half-forward line, you would think the best use of O’Mahony would be in this sector.

You could imagine the 6' 3” Mary I student in a role similar to the type that Kyle Hayes and Ger Hegarty perform for Limerick.

Tim O'Mahony has been effective up front for Mary I. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Tim O'Mahony has been effective up front for Mary I. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Cork are crying out for hard-working ball-winners who have an eye for goal and who can make life difficult for opposition half-back lines.

O’Mahony, 23, has done most of his hurling in the forward line and the likelihood is that he would be more useful to Cork as a poacher than as a gamekeeper.

Of course, Kieran Kingston has plenty of other options to fill these roles, such as Aidan Walsh, Declan Dalton, Seamus Harnedy, and Sean Twomey, but just like it was the correct thing to do to try all available options at centre-back, it is equally the right thing to do to try O’Mahony in the forward line, now.

Ollie Walsh of Kilkenny in action against Tim O'Mahony of Cork last year. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ollie Walsh of Kilkenny in action against Tim O'Mahony of Cork last year. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

We are not privy to conversations that have more than likely taken place behind closed doors in recent months.

Kieran Kingston, and/or various members of his backroom staff are likely to have taken O’Mahony aside and discussed what they see as his future role within the team.

Indeed, if such conversations occurred, which they should have, then O’Mahony is likely to have indicated the position he prefers to play. If these conversations never happened, then they should.

Notwithstanding what may or may not have been discussed, the evidence on the pitch would suggest that O’Mahony’s best position at inter-county level is not as a defender.

While he has the hurling and physical presence to nail down a key defensive position for Cork, he would be best deployed in a forward role.

The big question now is whether we will get to see any championship action in 2020, or whether we will have to wait until 2021 to see how the O’Mahony conundrum unfolds.

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