John Horgan: League will show if Cork selectors' bold calls were justified

Rebels have lost a lot of experience with the departure of veterans like Conor Lehane and Chris Joyce
John Horgan: League will show if Cork selectors' bold calls were justified

Seamus Harnedy is one of the experienced hurlers that remains in Kieran Kingston's squad after a winter cull. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SQUAD depth is going to be more important than ever when the inter-county hurling season swings back into action in a little short of a month’s time.

It all begins with the national league on May 7-8 and it’s going to be helter-skelter from then to its conclusion.

There will be very little breathing space between the conclusion of the secondary competition to the commencement of the championship and team bosses will be required to make the most of the squad at their disposal.

The league itself is going to be very demanding and unforgiving, five games on successive weekends and, for the most part, ones that it will be very difficult to forecast the outcome of.

Cork are bracketed with Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford, Galway and Westmeath and with respect to the Lake County, that’s the only game that you would be confident of taking full points from.

The national league title has not wended its way to Leeside since 1998 and that’s not a healthy statistic.

Of course, the championship is the ultimate goal of every county but a rewarding league campaign can provide a very solid foundation for an all-out assault in trying to take possession of the MacCarthy Cup.

Given how demanding the early weeks of the new season are going to be it’s imperative that every player on the squad is looked at.

There has been no lead into the season, no pre-season tournament or challenge games although it’s likely that a lot of counties will try to get in a challenge game before the start of the secondary competition.

Time will not be on the side of any of the participants or on their management teams but it will be the same menu for everybody.

BOLD MOVE

Cork boss Kieran Kingston has omitted a number of players who had served the county well in the past while others have called time themselves to be replaced by a number of the younger brigade who have plied their trade at U21 and U20 level.

The management made a big call in omitting Conor Lehane from the plans and whilst the Midleton player had not set the world alight in recent times, one believes that he still might have had something to offer.

Conor Lehane, Cork, scores the first goal against Wexford in a Man of the Match display in the 2015 qualifiers. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE
Conor Lehane, Cork, scores the first goal against Wexford in a Man of the Match display in the 2015 qualifiers. Picture: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

But, as they say, it is what it is and there is no doubt that there is some exceptional, young talent coming to the fore. Proof of that was the qualification of the U20s for the All-Ireland final against Galway or Dublin.

Quite a few of that team are now going to be given their opportunity in the forthcoming league and if a few of them make a strong case for themselves all the better.

Therefore some positive results in the national league are going to be a near imperative, results that will give young players like Shane Barrett, Sean Twomey, Daire Connery, Alan Connolly among others the type of confidence that will be required going into the minefield that will again be the Munster championship.

The likes of the Rockies trio, Dan Meaney, Niall Cashman and Tadgh Deasy must be seriously looked at in the league too and if their club form can be seen in the red jersey, all the better again.

If some of those younger players can show up well against the likes of Limerick, Tipperary, Galway and Waterford in the league you could have a decent blend of experience and youth going into the Munster championship arena.

In a condensed season similar to 2020 it’s going to be all about the squad, having the 21 or 22 players that Limerick had last season and in 2018 as well when they took the big prizes. 

Getting to the level they were at last season will not be easy, introducing players that you know you can trust at key junctures in games.

Physical presence and more aggression on the ball are other things that maybe Cork lacked. They must go into this national league campaign with the intention of topping the group, something that’s a big ask given the quality that is going to be coming out of the opposite corner.

Cork need to be more consistent too. We saw what happened last season in the aftermath of a league campaign that was not anywhere near as productive as it should have been.

Darragh Fitzgibbon in last year's league at Walsh Park. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Darragh Fitzgibbon in last year's league at Walsh Park. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

True, there was a good win over Tipperary but the streak of inconsistency was much too evident.

The championship opener against Waterford was a follow-on from the failure of not hitting the required heights in some of those league games.

This time it needs to be much better and if it is there would be room for cautious optimism going into the championship.

This is going to be a very important league campaign for Cork, more so than for some time.

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