It can be Banner year for the Rebels once they stay focused at Cusack Park

It can be Banner year for the Rebels once they stay focused at Cusack Park
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

CORK had 12 different scorers in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Saturday night against Waterford.

That, of course, is a significant, collective return.

Yet the most noteworthy factor in that statistic is that three of those 12 were substitutes contributing to the scoreboard.

Shane Kingston, a youngster that performed in the second half like a man hellbent on reclaiming a starting position in the team struck three wonderfully-executed points upon his introduction.

Tim O’Mahony, a player whose positional versatility could well prove to be a serious asset for the Leesiders throughout his senior inter-county career, raised two white flags while Conor Lehane also lofted over a sweet score.

This, obviously, then brought the tally of scores from the substitutes to 0-6 which is an excellent input from the trio in question.

It illustrates, in no uncertain terms, the depth that now exists within Cork’s squad.

And if the Rebels do indeed manage to emerge from the Munster SHC bearpit next weekend and progress to the All-Ireland series, the depth of quality presently at John Meyler’s disposal could define the Rebels’ summer campaign.

Even aside from those three operators that tacked on scores, just take in the names of the others Meyler had the luxury of introducing as the match developed.

Christopher Joyce. And Robbie O’Flynn. Experience. And evolving craft.

Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

And then there were the likes of Conor O’Sullivan, Damien Cahalane, Stephen McDonnell and Declan Dalton all still on the bench when the final whistle was blown. If there was those that criticised Cork for being shy in reserve last year, there is nobody that could level that argument at the management now.

There is just so much to like about this current Cork set-up now that it would be a shame, from a Leeside point of view, obviously, if they were to find themselves out of the championship by tea-time next Sunday evening.

After all, overcoming Clare in Ennis will not be a straightforward task by any means, despite the Banner’s borderline unexplainably abject form.

The Rebels will not fear competing in Cusack Park, of course, but it would be madness to suggest Clare will just roll over and wave Cork off into the All-Ireland series sunset.

Cork are favourites to win the match and understandably so. Yet, Meyler, his management team and players will appreciate that treading carefully will be the order of the day when they head west.

No matter what combination of results occur that yields a place in the next phase will obviously be welcomed by Meyler and Cork, because, surely, and privately, he will expect his side to truly push on once they get out of the provincial domain.

I certainly expect that to be the case, as has been detailed here on a number of occasions this year.

Currently, Cork and Tipp remain the two teams most likely to be competing for the All-Ireland title were the counties to avoid each other in the interim.

Galway and Limerick, for instance, would have plenty to say about that suggestion.

However, the Leesiders and the Premier appear to tick enough of the required boxes for such a thought-process to be justified.

Granted, were Clare to turn Cork over, which I would not totally rule out, as the Banner could not have become a weak outfit overnight, coupled with Limerick avoiding defeat to Tipp, then all the talk I have had about the Rebels being real All-Ireland contenders this season will have been for nothing.

However, there is a growing faith in this particular group.

Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Yet, one issue that needs care in future is the puck-outs. Anthony Nash is a brilliant goalkeeper, but a host of groans could be heard in the stands again on Saturday night as he hit a number of wayward restarts which resulted in Waterford attacks.

Nobody would expect any goalkeeper to be 100% efficient with their puck-outs.

However, if Cork do get into the All-Ireland series, even three or four loose restarts need to be guarded against, especially when the standard of competition increases.

Really, we are only nit-picking. Yet, small details are vital.

Also, there were one or two moments of indecision in the full-back line as well.

It is likely, however, that the more times Séan O’Donoghue, Eoin Cadogan and Niall O’Leary perform together the greater clarity of purpose there will be between those three defenders in dealing with what the opposition throws at them.

Ahead of those, Robert Downey, given his inexperience at this level yet, should come on for the run while Mark Ellis and Mark Coleman were outstanding in their respective placings again.

However, is there a better midfield combination in the country right now than Bill Cooper and Darragh Fitzgibbon?

The two players dovetail so well and if Cork kick-on, both of those men might be shortlisted for All-Stars later in the year.

They complement each other with ease and you could envisage Cooper and Fitzgibbon really dominating a major match at Croke Park if it comes down to it.

First, though, Cork must skip around next Sunday’s potential landmine in Ennis.

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