YOU know that little period before every Irish soccer international where you look at the squad, run down the list of recent goalscorers and come to the realisation again that nobody is likely to replace Robbie Keane anytime soon?
That particular dread where the best chance of goals are a recent introduction from league two or someone with one goal in a year in the premier league.
Well, last weekend was the exact opposite of that for Cork hurling.
There we had Patrick Horgan and Conor Lehane unleashing some kind of desperate punishment on opposing defences live on TG4, helping themselves to 20 points in total (10 from play) with taps and belters and all manner of handy-looking scores that were only made easy through serious elite-level excellence.
There was Darragh Fitzgibbon putting 14 scores (again, five from play) up in his first game at senior hurling with Charleville and adding to the idea that it’s hard to think of a better mentor in creating positions for him to score right now than Ben O’Connor.
Douglas might have gotten praise for a meaner defence but they still had Shane Kingston with 0-8 and Alan Cadogan reminding of his particular skillset with 1-2 and if we’re being greedy for the future we had Brian Turnbull with three points from play as well.
There were high scores all over – the Barrs hit 3-23, Blackrock 2-27 – which can call question on the quality and intensity of defending in championship if we’re being picky, and still it was hard not to get both a little excited by the potential to do serious damage and also wary at the balance to be found in unlocking the threat here.
Seriously, watching the Glen Rovers-Midleton game at times was like watching Messi and Ronaldo playing on opposite teams in a five-a-side, working the ball into their marquee player to score.
In the first attack, Midleton popped a ball low in front of Lehane, who ran out ahead of his man, turned snappily onto his right and belted over without looking. Moments later Lehane had the ball on the left wing and just eased past his man with a small burst that opened up the necessary space to slot another point.
The Glen launched a long ball bouncing in front of their go-to guy inside full-forward, Horgan flicked it up, controlled with a looping reach to his right and then just stopped dead to create a yard of space to pop a score off his left.
That was the first five minutes but it went on and on like this for more or less the entire game.
Horgan found spaces over on the right wing to get possession and was always able to nick a yard to launch shots off his left.
Lehane won a ball over on the right wing at one stage, executed a pick-up under savage pressure at high speed, smacked the sliotar over, half leaning sideways on the move.
That was just the first half and it was obvious to everyone that two players on the field were playing a different game at a very different speed, always capable of finding a moment and able to work a shot from any situation and the game became a sort of shootout on who could get most decent ball to their main scorer.
It feels a little like that for Cork as well, that for all the wondering about sorting certain positions in defence (and yes, the team did still concede the most in the league just gone, 5-106) that there are still those marginal gains to be found in attack as well.
Such as trying to spark the main scorers in the team (Horgan, Lehane, Cadogan, Harnedy, Fitzgibbon, Kingston) to reach the necessary matchwinning targets while balancing enough link players and ball-winners from midfield up (Kearney, Meade, Walsh, Cooper).
A few things here.
Cork scored 2-31 in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final after extra-time in a game where almost all the creatives clicked – Horgan scored 1-11, Lehane 1-3 in one of the great forgotten halves of performance, Fitzgibbon 0-4 from play, Kingston 0-3 – and it wasn’t enough but it still felt like there was more there.
It’ll be interesting for example what John Meyler does with Darragh Fitzgibbon positionally on the field.
Last year Fitzgibbon’s scoring totals jumped (0-10 in Munster, 0-4 v Limerick), he’s followed on with the club with this remarkable ability to find really dangerous scoring spaces to run into and receive ball in.
He hasn’t generally had to break many tackles to get shots away and if there’s bound to be an element of teams keeping a far closer eye now, this kind of knack for arriving onto ball with support runs or getting ahead of the ball into spaces is extremely difficult to stop.
Cork need Fitzgibbon chipping in with those three or four scores a game on average.
There ought to be some room for pushing to create more goalscoring situations and potential overloads of numbers with that ball-carrying velocity – imagine the possibilities of him running down the middle to take a ball from Seamus Harnedy with say Alan Cadogan drifting in behind the full-back line.
Cadogan can be a game-changer here too, the sort of forward with a different instinctive movement towards goal from the others, who might be inclined to commit to a green flag on a two-v-one goal chance rather than taking the easy point.
The doubts linger against a team who might choke the areas in front of that golden inside-forward area and force Cork into less than fifty-fifty launches they don’t want to make.
But really there’s a temptation to double down on the attack here, to focus on giving that front combination the sort of ball and spaces that could dominate the summer.
The hurling championship has been about scoring more than not conceding. Cork have the forwards in the sort of form that ought to make a difference. It might not get any more complicated than that.
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