The Rebel management should take a look at Chris O'Leary and Niall O'Leary to bolster the defence

The Rebel management should take a look at Chris O'Leary and Niall O'Leary to bolster the defence
Chris O'Leary was on top form with UCC. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

LOSING by 12 points in a home National Hurling League match against Tipperary should be enough to trigger alarm bells on Leeside, yet Cork manager John Meyler is unlikely to be losing any sleep anytime soon.

The logical conclusion to make is that Cork were so busy trying not to show their hand to Tipperary, with their May 12 Munster Championship battle firmly in mind, that they left themselves extremely vulnerable to a hiding, which is what, of course, ensued.

No one is suggesting for a second that Cork went out to lose the game heavily, but if you let Tipperary hurl then they will do just that, and on Sunday Cork left Tipp hurl.

Not once did Cork look to exploit the Tipperary full back, which is a perceived weakness of the side. Not once did they run at the heart of their half-back line, which lacks pace. They seemed to go to great lengths not to go direct with the wind at their backs in the second half. They made no real concerted effort to protect their half-backs, and Sarsfield’s Daniel Kearney, a key player in Cork’s style of play, never made an appearance.

Aidan Walsh scores a goal against Tipp. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Aidan Walsh scores a goal against Tipp. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

This could all be used as evidence to suggest that Cork simply weren’t bothered with this league tie, and in truth, bar the game against Limerick two weeks ago, they have shown very little interest in the competition this year. The worry is as to whether they can suddenly turn it on like a tap come the summer. 

The proof of whether this approach was the correct one will be seen come May, as Cork will need to hit the ground running in the Championship ties against Tipp and All-Ireland champions Limerick.

While we are making the huge assumption that we can write off the league in its entirety, one has to wonder how beneficial these games are to players trying to establish themselves within the team.

The likes of Darren Browne and Dan Dooley will not have had their reputations bolstered by this display, for instance. Will Meyler have learned anything about how they will react to the white-hot heat of Munster Championship combat from Sunday’s effort?

Cork conceded 1-28 in less than ideal conditions, and shadow boxing or not, that is worrying.

Cork manager John Meyler. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Cork manager John Meyler. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

The Cork defence ended up being short of All-Ireland winning standard last year, so we are certainly not going to get hyperbolic and claim that the defensive options available to John Meyler are world beaters, but probably Meyler’s biggest problem is that he may actually have too many options to choose from, which means he might be in danger of taking the wrong ones.

For instance, based on their performances in the Fitzgibbon Cup for champions UCC both Chris O’Leary and Niall O’Leary are deserving of auditions in the Cork rearguard, but both appear to be some way down the pecking order at present.

Valley Rovers' Chris O’Leary was arguably College’s star performer from the right wing-back position in their Fitz triumph, with a feature of his performances being his exquisite ball striking from long range. That asset alone should have him being considered as a serious option for the Cork number five jersey.

UCC's Chris O'Leary. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
UCC's Chris O'Leary. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

It seems crazy to think that he was a bit part player in the Cork U21 set-up last year. He was played as a forward and as a midfielder in the last two U21 campaigns when it is clearly obvious that the half-back line is where he is at his most comfortable. 

He probably felt that his inter-county career was as good as over when he found himself falling out of Denis Ring’s plans last year, but he has to be commended for the manner in which he has responded to that personal set back, and he is deserving of a look at wing-back for Cork.

The more wing-back options the better for Cork. If a couple of viable alternatives can be found here then the option of deploying Mark Coleman to midfield can be utilised if needed.

Niall O’Leary is another who won’t have pleasant memories of last year’s U21 championship, as he will no doubt have had nightmares of that late Tipperary goal in the All-Ireland final ever since, but that shouldn’t deride from the fact that he had arguably been Cork’s best defender up to that point. His tight-marking style and manner in which he attacks the ball would appear to suggest that he is tailor-made for inter-county defending. 

His performances for Imokilly and UCC would add further evidence to this notion.

Paul Honohan, Bishopstown, in action against defender Niall O'Leary, Imokilly. Picture: Larry Cummins
Paul Honohan, Bishopstown, in action against defender Niall O'Leary, Imokilly. Picture: Larry Cummins

Of course, Meyler has all last year’s defenders to call upon this year, even if Colm Spillane is still due out for another while, and he is also giving plenty chances to the likes of Tim O’Mahony, the returning Stephen McDonnell, Kanturk’s Darren Browne, Carrigaline’s David Griffin and Clonakilty’s David Lowney, which reiterates the earlier point of him almost having too many options at present. 

And to think that Mark Ellis and Billy Hennessy have been out injured for quite some time now too. Both men would have expected to have seen a decent amount of game time in the league this year, had they been fit. And on top of that, three or four of the 2017 minors are being slowly introduced too.

Meyler has to be commended for all this. There seems to an element of short and long term planning in terms of most of Cork’s recent panel announcements.

With all the above-named options needing game-time it would have seemed to have been within Cork’s interests to actually make a concerted effort to win the league, but this was not to be.

Returning players such as Ellis, Hennessy, Michael Cahalane, Declan Dalton and potentially Colm Spillane as well as the returning Fitzgibbon Cup brigade would’ve been crying out for game time.

With only a virtual dead rubber tie against Kilkenny on the horizon it will now be extremely difficult to make qualified calls on the make-up of the Cork panel come the Championship.

Ultimately it was difficult to take any positives from Sunday’s defeat, but one may be that if there was ever any potential for Cork to be complacent heading into the May 12 encounter against Tipp then that is certainly not going to happen now.

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