AFTER watching Limerick amble to an impressive All-Ireland triumph in recent weeks it was hard not to conclude that the game of hurling has changed considerably in recent seasons with the champions at the forefront of this evolution.
This ‘modern’ version of hurling might not be everyone’s cup of tea, where it seems everyone now must be 6ft 4”, or where almost every possession turns into a scoring opportunity, but like it or not, it is here to stay.
With the brilliance of Limerick's wing-forwards Gearoid Hegarty and Tom Morrissey one of the primary reasons the Shannonsiders regained the Liam MacCarthy Cup the trend will undoubtedly now turn towards unearthing Hegarty and Morrissey clones in every top tier hurling county.
Hegarty rifled over seven points from play in the decider against Waterford, and Morrissey was just behind him with five. That is phenomenal scoring; in fact, it is unsustainable, but what is almost more important is the duo's other stats.
The 6ft 5” Hegarty had 19 possessions in the All-Ireland final to the 6ft 1” Morrissey’s 17, while Hegarty made 12 tackles to his teammate's nine, and just edged Morrissey three-two in terms of puck-outs won.
These are the types of numbers that coaches need to be concentrating on when looking to build a half-forward line that could turn a side into All-Ireland contenders. The dozen points from play are just the icing on the cake, as the 36 possessions and 21 tackles from just two players have a strangling effect on any opposition.
Cork manager Kieran Kingston has already given an indication of an appetite for change within the Cork set-up heading into 2021, as it has been made clear that a number of stalwarts are no longer part of Kingston’s plans.
A number of new players have been added to the Cork panel, such as Sean Twomey, Daire O’Leary, Ger Millerick, Shane Barrett, Niall Cashman, Tadhg Deasy, Alan Connolly and Daniel Meaney, although it remains to be seen if an attempt is made to copy Limerick’s style.
Cork could easily have tried to replicate this approach in recent times. Players of similar stature to Limerick’s half-forward have been in and around the Cork panel, such as Aidan Walsh and Tim O’Mahony, but Cork have preferred to pick ‘ball players’ such as Conor Lehane and Shane Kingston, with limited success.
I doubt very much Cork have ever had a pair of wing-forwards get as many possessions in a championship game as the aforementioned Limerick duo.
Cork have never possessed ball-winners of that quality. In saying that, there are plenty of young players in Cork who could be realistic options for Cork if they wanted to go down the ‘giant’ route that is likely to be in vogue in the near future.
Before we start naming names it is important to emphasise the fact that none of the following players are in Hegarty and Morrissey’s league just now. Nobody should be proclaiming they are the panacea to all Cork’s problems.
What they bring to the table is potential, and while everything should be done to develop this potential to its maximum, there are no guarantees. In fact, probably the one guarantee is that they won’t all make the grade at senior inter-county level.
The players that are in the news due to recent exploits at U20 level are Liscarroll’s Colin O’Brien and St Finbarr’s Brian Hayes.
O’Brien came off the bench and scored 0-5 in extra time to beat Limerick in the Munster semi-final, including three sumptuous sideline cuts from the right touchline. Hayes, also was introduced off the bench and he pilfered 1-4 from play, which was the key to Cork pulling away.
Both players are in the region of 6ft 4”, and it is noticeable that Cork selected much smaller players ahead of them who struggled to win primary possession. Eventually, the penny must drop in Cork hurling in this regard that size matters.
If Cork ever call a halt to the obsession with turning Tim O’Mahony into a defender then he would be a serious option in this regard.
As would Sarsfields’ James Sweeney, who really impressed in the club championship this year, and at 6ft 7” would be looking down at every half back in the country.
The likes of Sean Twomey, Shane O’Regan and Tadhg Deasy also look like good up and coming ball-winning options that Kingston will be looking at in the coming months.
Kingston, his selectors, and indeed, Cork supporters, may have to be patient though, as half-forward lines like Limerick’s do not grow overnight, like mushrooms.