Meade has grabbed his chance to become a vital cog in the Cork attack

Meade has grabbed his chance to become a vital cog in the Cork attack
Newcestown's Luke Meade wins the ball from Tracton's Adam Gleasure. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

ASK a Cork supporter to pick their ideal forward line and you'd expect it to contain Shane Kingston and Conor Lehane.

While Lehane's injury was a factor, those marquee men were on the bench against Waterford last weekend. They shared 0-4 in the second half where Kingston, especially, looked very dangerous but there's no guarantee they'll be in the first 15 from here.

After his performances in the past two victories, Luke Meade's stock is on the rise but he's never been considered a key figure up front. The unselfish tracking, clever passing and quick pick-ups of the 22-year-old don't ignite the crowd the way Patrick Horgan's goals, Alan Cadogan's turns and Seamus Harnedy's catches do but Meade's role is critical to the current structure of the Cork team.

Daniel Kearney operates in a similar deployment to Meade, which in tandem with Bill Cooper and Darragh Fitzgibbon gives the Rebels a platform in the middle third. It also creates space further up for the marquee attackers. 

We're not suggesting Meade is anything other than a gifted player. It's just he's now in the 'underappreciated' category Cooper occupied until the 2017 Munster championship when he proved what a vital cog he was.  

Luke Meade hitting the net against Clare. He has 1-9 in 13 championship games, 12 starts. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Luke Meade hitting the net against Clare. He has 1-9 in 13 championship games, 12 starts. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Meade isn't an obviously wristy hurler in the mould of Horgan or Lehane, yet he scored a stunning goal back in the spring for Mary I. In a Fitzgibbon Cup tie against CIT he feinted to go left, slipped past one marker, dummied on his right and evaded another, before slamming the sliotar into the top corner. 

He has been utterly brilliant for Mary I during his stint there, winning a Fitz and helping them reach this year's final and as he showed late in the first half of the 2018 Munster final against Clare, is well able to raise a green flag. 

Back in January 2015 he got a run-out for Cork against Limerick in preseason, along with a similarly callow Seán O'Donoghue, and stitched a hat-trick. In his breakthrough league campaign two years ago he buried a brilliant goal against Waterford.  

Luke Meade at Newcestown's Cúl Camp. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Luke Meade at Newcestown's Cúl Camp. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Growing up Luke, whose older brother Jack is also a fine player for Newcestown, was marked out as one to watch without being completely dominant. He actually started out with the Bandon club before transferring. 

He was slight and small in his teens but had raw potential thanks to his pure hurling. He hurled a lot at wing-back and, like now, he wasn't the most vocal on the pitch but always commanded the respected of his team-mates for his reliability and a velvet touch. 

Reinforcing the idea that second-level competition is as important for development as club duty, Meade played three years in the Harty Cup with Hamilton High School, having made his senior debut as a corner-forward when he was a 15-year-old third-year pupil.

Hamilton High's Luke Meade and Thurles CBS' Jack Lineen. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Hamilton High's Luke Meade and Thurles CBS' Jack Lineen. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Hammies had a fine crop during that period and reached the Harty semi-finals and secured an O'Callaghan Cup title. Cork senior Micheal Cahalane, UCC Fitzgibbon Cup winner Chris O'Leary and Newcestown's Trevor Horgan backboned the team.

Teacher Aidan O'Donoghue explained Meade was always the ideal link-man.

"He was midfield for the three years of the Harty and was great at holding the middle. Other teams usually put a sweeper in front of Michael Cahalane so Luke was generally our spare man then.

"In sixth year he got forward a bit more and was able to get more scores but he was brilliant in that role out around the middle."

He was a Cork minor in 2014, the same on-the-age group as Seán O'Donoghue, Patrick Collins and Darren Browne, but they fell short in a Munster semi-final to Limerick, who were captained by Cian Lynch with Tom Morrissey the go-to forward and Seán Finn at corner-back. 

Despite that setback, he showed enough to be brought onto the training panel by Jimmy Barry-Murphy when he was still a Leaving Cert in 2015. Later that year Newcestown captured the PIHC and were promoted to senior. 

Luke Meade against Carrigaline's Cillian MacSweeney. Picture: Larry Cummins
Luke Meade against Carrigaline's Cillian MacSweeney. Picture: Larry Cummins

Meade was a three-year U21, unfortunately missing out on the 2017 Munster campaign through injury, but still had to nail down his place at the elite level.

It helped he pilfered three points on his senior championship debut in Thurles but he's not a primary scorer, managing only 1-6 in the 12 games, 11 starts, since. 

There was a dip in a form at the start of the next year, which saw him out of the line-up against Limerick in the Páirc, but now it's hard to see how the Rebel attack could function without him.

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