There's a hard edge as well as silky skills behind this Rebel revival

There's a hard edge as well as silky skills behind this Rebel revival
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Éamonn Murphy

Hurling

LAST Sunday was one of the great days to be a Cork hurling supporter.

It wasn't as open or entertaining as the explosive clash with Tipp last month. And the result wasn't as unexpected. Most fans were quietly confident.

Yet in many ways it topped the Munster opener because the stakes were higher, the pressure was greater, the weather was as sizzling as Cork's hurling. No trophies were given out but a significant marker was laid down not just for this season bug going forward.

It's not just a glib line. Cork hurling really is back!

There was a hardness there too.

The picture on below of Diarmuid O'Sullivan and Niall Cahalane – whose son Damian once more held firm against one of the most dangerous full-forwards in the game – by Eddie O'Hare is of two of the toughest men to ever pull on the Blood and Bandage.

Selector Diarmuid O'Sulivan with Niall Cahalane, father of Damian after defeating Waterford on Sunday. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Selector Diarmuid O'Sulivan with Niall Cahalane, father of Damian after defeating Waterford on Sunday. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

When 'Corkness' is defined it's usually in terms of speed, skill and cuteness. Think JBM, Tony Sull, Deano.

What's often forgotten is the granite base on which many of the the most stylish Rebel outfits were built. The greatest era of Cork football was underscored by Cahalane, Conor Counihan, Larry Tompkins and co's ability to match Meath. The Rock, Brian Murphy and Ronan Curran didn't yield an inch in the mid-noughties.

There was a concern in the build-up to last weekend that Waterford would have the muscle and system to choke Cork's runners and grind them down. However fire was met with fire. Bill Cooper levelled Kevin Moran with a booming shoulder, Damian Cahalane spoiled a succession of long balls sent to Maurice Shanahan, Chris Joyce and Mark Ellis were beasts prowling the half-back line.

Christopher Joyce driving out. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Christopher Joyce driving out. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Granted, Cork's young guns didn't fire like they had against Tipp, but Darragh Fitzgibbon and Mark Coleman were still able to absorb hits and release the sliotar without being turned over. This is clearly a strong and fit group of Rebels, which the backroom team deserve credit for, but they are being driven on by their self-belief.

When Kieran Kingston took over the panel endured a very heavy gym programme over the winter, which didn't reap an obvious reward last year but may be paying off now. Intensity on the hurling field is about more than strength and conditioning though, it's about confidence, motivation and the class to execute skills when the heat is on – literally when the sun is scorching like it was last Sunday.

Cork have that bite to them again and it's why Conor Lehane, Patrick Horgan, Seamus Harnedy, Ellis and Anthony Nash are in their form is their lives. If the upset against Tipp was about the remarkable debuts by the newcomers, last weekend was about the old guard.

Anthony Nash clears the ball. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Anthony Nash clears the ball. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

Lehane might be only 25 next month, but it's a long time in sporting terms since he announced his arrival with 0-7 from play against Waterford in 2012. Apart from Lehane, only Stephen McDonnell, Horgan, and subs Luke O'Farrell and Lorcán McLoughlin remain from the 19 players used in that floodlit February league game at Páirc Uí Rinn.

This is essentially another new era, but the core of hurlers who reached the 2013 All-Ireland final and won the 2014 are still there. As frustrated as we've all been with Cork hurling this decade, they've still been good enough to reach two league finals, three Munster deciders and the All-Ireland. 

Conor Lehane is tackled by Waterford's Barry Coughlan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Conor Lehane is tackled by Waterford's Barry Coughlan. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

That's not been good enough, particularly the return of just one trophy, by the standards we set for the Rebels, but it shows the potential is there. Cork being Cork, we're all a bit excited about the summer ahead.

For all the talk about taking it one game at a time, half of Leeside are rearranging their plans for September. And after so much disappointment lately there's nothing wrong with that, as long as the management and players keep doing what's been working.

The connection is back between the Cork hurlers and the crowd and that's worth a couple of scores in any arena. 

Clare, with Donal Óg Cusack, on the sideline, will be wary of the resurgent Rebels but have the hurlers to deliver themselves. The countdown to July 9 begins.

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