YOU’VE to be careful not to read too much into hurling games in January.
Or any time before the ground hardens up. The rookie that holds his own on a heavy pitch can be left for dust both in terms of the speed of the hurling and running in Semple Stadium and Croke Park.
For all that, being able to perform on a surface as rough as Páirc Uí Chaoimh’s last Saturday night had to be a viewed as a positive. A victory over Kilkenny, the first in the league since 2012, was essential in John Meyler’s first league outing.
After a sluggish pre-season with losses to Clare, Limerick and Kerry, Cork couldn’t afford to fall to a Kilkenny team shorn of Richie Hogan, Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly, with TJ Reid on the bench. Many are sceptical about how the Rebels will do this season, having come under the radar to capture the Munster crown and given Kieran Kingston’s departure as boss.
In that context to get the win in front of a fine crowd at the floodlit Páirc using an attractive brand of wristy, high-tempo hurling sets the right tone for the year. That the team featured a clutch of new faces was a bonus.
The recruits on show, Seán O’Donoghue, Tim O’Mahony, Robbie O’Flynn and sub Jack O’Connor, all showed up well. As did the returning Eoin Cadogan and Pa Collins deputising for Anthony Nash in goal – though why he wasn’t originally named in the team when Nash was on duty that afternoon with Kanturk didn’t make any sense.
Being in Dublin to document Ballincollig basketball club’s National Cup meant we watched eirSport’s coverage. It was an excellent package, fronted by Damian Lawlor, with Anthony Daly, Eoin Kelly, Jamsie O’Connor and Tommy Walsh on analysis.
Walsh, in particular, was hugely entertaining and lavished praise on Newtown’s Tim O’Mahony at centre-back, comparing him to Clare icon and one of the greatest number sixes of all-time Seanie McMahon. It was daft really, after one game, but Walsh is so a warm and enthusiastic you could understand what he meant.
Certainly the 20-year-old from North Cork caught the eye and, albeit in viewing the game from the living room instead of the stand, would have been my choice as Man of the Match.
Conor Lehane got the official nod. He was excellent too, in landing a couple of his trademark soaring points from play and assisting the score of the game for Darragh Fitzgibbon with a dazzling pick-up and offload.
Seamus Harnedy shone too, with his overall drive and three points.
Yet O’Mahony picked up the world of ball around the middle, used his height well and mixed pop passes with longer deliveries. It’ll take a while before we figure out if he’s the long-term answer and Mark Ellis, who was on the left flank, could still retake the berth. Still, hats off to the youngster who has played a lot of his hurling up to now as a forward.
O’Mahony and Robbie O’Flynn are from the same minor class as Fitzgibbon, Shane Kingston and Mark Coleman and on Saturday’s evidence have the same self-confidence. O’Flynn was involved last year without making any real breakthrough. Even for the Cork U21s, apart from a class goal down in Waterford, he didn’t shine.
The season before he was a Rearden’s All-Star for his exploits with the Erin’s Own team that reached the county final, so his potential is undeniable. It’ll probably help that new selector Donal O’Mahony coached him when he was lining out for CBC in the Harty Cup.
O’Flynn is the type of streaky, hard-running forward who needs assurance when the ball doesn’t bounce his way. That he nailed two fine points and brilliantly set up another on Saturday night while breaking even with Cillian Buckley shows patience will be important as he finds his feet.
Like Sars’ Jack O’Connor, who was introduced and arrowed over a tasty point in the closing exchanges, O’Flynn could do a lot of damage in a short burst at the height of summer.
Seán O’Donoghue is a different type of player altogether. Closer to Colm Spillane or Damien Cahalane in terms of his build and abrasive approach at the back, the Inniscarra native looked a better football prospect a couple of years ago.
He was a vital cog in a Coláiste Choilm team, also featuring Cian Kiely and Ronan O’Toole, that won All-Ireland B honours at Croker and in a Cork U21 side that lost an All-Ireland to Mayo. Hurling though has always been his priority and he was rock solid against Kilkenny, pulling off two full-tilt blocks.
Given Cork have more attacking options that defensive ones, there will be places up for grabs come the round-robin Munster championship series.
Eoin Cadogan’s decision to switch to hurling looks a smart one too. He struggled to stay fit over recent years on the football front, but he settled in effectively at full-back against the Cats. Walter Walsh picked off a few points but Cadogan didn’t put a foot wrong.
It was terrific to see Pa Collins pulling off one reflex save and hurling well overall in goal because he was wearing the number 16 geansaí. It never made sense to expect Nash to play two games in one day and even if the plan might have always been to deploy Collins between the posts, Cork hardly need to name a dummy team for the first league outing.
Thankfully it didn’t matter.
If it was a case of job done last weekend, Sunday up in Wexford Park will be far more demanding. With the Walsh Cup secured and Waterford beaten, Davy Fitz will have Wexford hopping off the ground for Meyler’s return to his home turf.