THE Cork hurlers stared into the abyss of championship elimination and came out fighting against Limerick in their own backyard, to fire much-needed oxygen into their championship campaign.
There is a genuine possibility that we will not know the three counties to emerge out of Munster until the final whistle goes in the final matches on June 16, but having seen off Limerick, Cork now know that qualification is back in their own hands.
Last week we were extremely critical of the way in which John Meyler set up Cork, as well as for the failure of the management team to make substitutions in a timely manner, against Tipperary.
Well, a week is a long time in the Munster Hurling Championship, and this week we must give Meyler his dues, as Cork looked like a different team against Limerick.
If Cork had lost Sunday’s game at the LIT Gaelic Grounds then Meyler would have been heavily castigated following his team selection on Friday night.
Bringing Mark Ellis in from the cold to lock down the defence at centre back, and giving a debut to the Glen’s Robert Downey at wing-back could have been described as panic moves, but analysis in sport is always based on the outcome, and with the outcome being in Cork’s favour this week, Meyler’s selections now look inspired.
The management team must also be commended for the half-time substitution of Sean O’Donoghue, who had not enjoyed his first half on Limerick’s dangerman Graham Mulcahy.
Stephen McDonnell came on at the break and used his considerable experience to shut Mulcahy down, and along with the brilliant defensive duo of Eoin Cadogan and Niall O’Leary, they completely shut down the All-Ireland Champions attack in that crucial second half.
A lot of people questioned the selection of Aidan Walsh in the forward line but the Kanturk man fully justified his presence on the team with a workaholic display while he was on the pitch.
It is easy to become overly fixated about ‘ball-winning’ forwards being actually able to win clean possession from puck-outs and long deliveries, but the role of the physical forward is much more than that.
Clean catches are a bonus, but the real worth of someone like Walsh in the team is that they make the ball stick by getting in opposition defences faces, breaking long balls, hitting defenders, harrying them, and generally being a nuisance and not letting half-backs play the ball out unchallenged.
Many may see such work-rate as a given in an inter-county hurler, but finding someone who can contribute in such an unselfish manner is actually hard to come by, and it allows others such as Pat Horgan, Alan Cadogan, Luke Meade and Daniel Kearney to do what they do best.
In one of those days when there is not enough of a word count to praise everyone worthy of it, Alan Cadogan deserves a special mention.
The Douglas man has barely pucked a ball in the past year due to injuries, yet he was a constant menace to the Limerick defence after he replaced the unfortunate Conor Lehane in the sixth minute.
One has to wonder how last year’s All-Ireland semi-final would have turned out had Cadogan been fit then.
His return, and three-point performance, gives Meyler extra options going forward. Cadogan probably deserves to keep the number 13 shirt now, meaning that Lehane may become the impact sub for the next day, at least.
Having the scoring quality of the likes of Lehane, Shane Kingston, Robbie O’Flynn, Tim O’Mahony and Declan Dalton coming off the bench late on certainly would suggest that Cork are likely to be strong finishers in every game they play this season.
Another positive on the horizon is the likely return to the fray of Castlelyons’ Colm Spillane.
Spillane has been one of Cork’s most important defenders in recent seasons so you would expect him to have a huge part to play in the rest of Cork’s campaign, although it is not completely obvious as to what position he will be utilised in.
He certainly won’t be getting the number four shirt back off his clubmate Niall O’Leary anytime soon.
And the perceived problem position of full-back looks in good hands right now following Eoin Cadogan’s man of the match display.
The other corner-back position may be up for grabs. Sean O’Donoghue still has a huge part to play though, as does Stephen McDonnell, so Meyler has options in this regard.
Before Sunday I was of the opinion that Spillane might be the best man to anchor the defence at centre-back, following the difficult afternoon Tim O’Mahony had against Tipp last week.
But that was before Mark Ellis’ impressive display on Sunday. It will be hard to budge the Millstreet man if he keeps up that level of form.
Beside him young Robert Downey can be highly satisfied with his championship debut at wing-back. He may not have hurled an awful lot of ball, but he certainly did not look out of place.
It might be the case that Downey doesn’t keep the jersey for the entire year, but he’s a Cork hurler now, and will be for some time by the look of it.
The old cliché that you are only as good as your last result rings true following Sunday’s triumph.
Last Sunday coming out of Páirc Uí Chaoimh the confidence levels were on the floor, along with Cork’s All-Ireland prospects.
This week the strut is back, the summer seems full of promise once more, and Cork are being talked about as All-Ireland contenders again.
Long may it continue.