THERE is a growing consensus after last season’s senior championship that Cork hurling is moving in the right direction.
The start of the 2017 campaign unearthed a few fresh faces who blended in seamlessly in defence, midfield, and attack. Sunday in chilly Cusack Park Ennis, and under new manager John Meyler the search for more Rebel talent continued.
In front of an attendance of 1,594, another experimental team took to the field. However, it wasn’t long before a better-balanced Clare side got on top, and the concession of three green flags in the first quarter meant the visitors were always chasing a result. Meanwhile, Cork’s lack of threat in front of goal at the other end left them with a lot to do.
The home side made 10 changes to the team that easily got past Kerry in round one of this Co-Op Superstores Munster hurling league with many of their more familiar names returning which meant Cork were always going to get another serious test of their credentials. This, after losing to Limerick by five points the previous Sunday.
Cork too rung the changes, retaining just eight of that side, including a handful of county U21s. There was also the selection of county minor Evan Sheehan at full-forward.
And further changes to the matchday programme included Eoin Cadogan replacing Tim O’Mahony at centre-back, Lorcán McLoughlin coming in at midfield instead of Darragh Fitzgibbon, and Declan Dalton for Shane Kingston at corner-forward.
Since announcing his return to the small ball, Cadogan was making his first appearance for the Rebels. While he lined out in the half-back line, he was switched to full-back after Cork shipped those early goals as Peter Duggan was causing problems at the edge of the square. It must be remembered he hasn’t a whole lot of hurling under his belt, but his display augurs well for the year ahead.
In turn, the switch of Eoghan Murphy to wing-back was beneficial, with the Sarsfields player scoring two points. Up front, Daniel Kearney and Robert O’Shea landed seven points between them. But with the Banner side having sprinted out of the traps and Duggan (2) and Cathal Malone plundering the three majors, it was an uphill battle.
The strength on their sub bench was illustrated too, when, immediately after Niall Deasy netted their fourth goal 14 minutes after the restart, the public address announced the introduction of Tony Kelly. Having the likes of Kelly and David Reidy to come in, gave the winners a crucial edge. Cork trailed by eight points at different stages in the first-half, they pegged it back to four at the mid-way stage.
They had opportunities at the beginning of the second-half to reduce the margin further, but Séadna Morey fired a brace of classy points from his post at right half back. That, plus the stronger panel, ensured the hosts would kick on. Their experienced players were now leading by example, and Cork were struggling for rhythm as both sides made a raft of changes.
However, it would be fair to say that neither manager will be reading too much into the outcome. Clare are through to the final where they will meet Limerick. And a really good game is in prospect here between these neighbouring counties. They should be at near full strength, and if defenders Morey and David McInerney produce the goods once again, the first piece of New Year silverware could be collected by Clare captain Patrick O’Connor.
Meyler stressed afterwards Cork’s plan for this competition was to try and see as many players as possible. They are back training tonight and on Wednesday evening in the Mardyke they play UCC in the Canon Michael O’Brien Cup. The College will have the Cork players at their disposal, so this promises to be a very competitive game, especially with serious Fitzgibbon Cup preparations underway.
As well, another Cork selection played Dublin in a challenge game on Saturday and they came away with the victory which according to the Cork boss was very encouraging. So, it looks like no stone is being left unturned in their quest to mould the best team possible for when the National League gets underway later this month.
Unearthing fresh blood won’t happen overnight. It is a pity they have exited this particular league as another competitive match would have been of great benefit. They do have one remaining fixture against Kerry next weekend but with the Kingdom having suffered big defeats to both Limerick and Clare, they may not learn too much from that encounter. Plus, it is a dead rubber.
It was obvious the vibrancy and energy coming from the younger players last year played a major factor in getting Cork hurling to where it is They set the bar by claiming Munster honours and the hope will be to retain that title.
They improved last season, and they will need to improve more this season. Understandable, many of the players that featured against Limerick (December 31) and Clare (on Sunday) will not be present as the process progresses.
It remains a learning curve especially for the younger panel members. But the competition they are creating for places will be key in what hopefully will become a long league and championship run.