Cork forwards should look at how the last great Rebel team linked up

Cork forwards should look at how the last great Rebel team linked up
Joe Deane and Seán Óg lead out the Cork legends team against the Déise. Picture: Howard Crowdy

DIARMUID O’Sullivan made a very valid point about the Cork hurlers this week ahead of the Munster championship opener.

“Time is running out, rapidly,” O’Sullivan warned. “Hoggy, Lehane, Joycey, Harnedy, Nasher: there’s not too many more opportunities are going to come their way if it doesn’t come right over the next four to five months.”

On ability alone, the likes of Patrick Horgan and Anthony Nash are as good as any Cork has produced in their positions, while Seamus Harnedy was awesome in recent years for Imokilly and as Cork captain. In the pantheon of Leeside greats, however, they won’t measure up without a trip up the steps of the Hogan Stand.

Conor Lehane has talent to burn. Given he can operate at half-forward or at 14 and lobs over wonder points on the run from out the wing, he’s is in the mould of Ben O’Connor and Tony O’Sullivan before him.

Both got their hands on Liam MacCarthy three times though, with Tony Sull the Hurler of the Year in 1990 and Ben the RTÉ Man of the Match in the 2005 All-Ireland final. Lehane needs to rip it up all season to be considered on their level.

Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

While the Rebels have a shot at a provincial three-in-a-row this summer, which the county hasn’t achieved since 1986 to round off five titles on the bounce, it’s an All-Ireland they crave. The Rock, a four-time All-Star who was a selector with the core of this group in 2016-‘17, knows his hurling history.

“As Cork people, we have won an All-Ireland in every decade. It would be a shame if that goes,” lamented O’Sullivan.

“This is a massive year of all years. It’s the last year in the decade, so we want to protect our history and what’s gone before us by winning one this year.”

Current coach Kieran ‘Fraggie’ Murphy is a direct link to Cork’s last great team, which O’Sullivan anchored at full-back, from the mid-noughties. 

The inside forward was an under-rated member of the group that were All-Ireland champions in 2004 and ‘05 and his best season was actually in 2007 when he ripped it up alongside Neil Ronan at the edge of the square.

Murphy has an enviable collection of medals, from being top-scorer in the last minor All-Ireland winning crop in 2001 to those senior All-Irelands, county glory with Sars and Fitzgibbon Cup captain at LIT.

Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Fraggie had an eye for goal but what was especially commendable about the diminutive attacker was his unselfishness. He was a corner- or full-forward but his peripheral vision and array of pop passes brought the rest of the attack into the game too.

It’s not a strength of the current Rebel forward line, despite an array of individual talents on a par with Joe Deane, O’Connor and the rest from those halcyon days. Horgan can sling over scores after a half-step from any angle thanks to his powerful wrists, while Lehane’s dazzling effort against Waterford in 2017 after catching a puck-out in the wrong hand and switching at pace, is endlessly rewatchable.

What’s more frustrating is that too often the Cork forwards try to split the posts themselves when being that bit more direct or offloading to a runner would lead to more goal chances.

Though Robbie O’Flynn could have tapped over a score against Limerick late on in the All-Ireland semi-final last July but instead set up Harnedy for the potentially match-winning goal chance that it took a Nickie Quaid wonder save to deny.

O’Flynn showed a nose for goal on U21 duty in recent seasons and you’d imagine that’s one of the reasons John Meyler, Murphy and Donal O’Mahony are big fans of the wickedly fast Erin’s Own club man. He might not start on Sunday against Tipp but he’ll certainly feature and it’s vital he takes on defenders directly.

Shane Kingston is Cork’s quickest player and Darragh Fitzgibbon and Lehane are able to take on their markers from a standing start too, which is an avenue Cork should exploit.

Where the current Cork team can’t compare with the 2003 to 2006 side is in defence. O’Sullivan, Wayne Sherlock, Pat Mulcahy and Brian Murphy were no-nonsense in the extreme while John Gardiner, Ronan Curran and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín was a classic half-back combo.

Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

As promising and all as Mark Coleman is, and he’s arguably going to end up as a midfielder anyway, any six of those seven noughties backs would make the 2019 line-up. A bit of their cynicism would go a long way this summer.

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