Cork hurlers need a refresh but don't expect sweeping changes to the first 15

'It cannot be overstated that patience must be shown with the new faces in the squad'
Cork hurlers need a refresh but don't expect sweeping changes to the first 15

Shane Kingston was an All-Star nominee in 2020 and will have added responsibility this season. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

THE one good thing about not winning too many titles is that it makes for more interesting debate when discussing how that team can be fixed.

There is very little craic in discussing the Limerick hurlers or Dublin footballers right now. You could pretty much pick their starting championship teams now, barring injuries. The Cork hurlers on the other hand, well, you’re as likely to pick the lotto numbers as select the starting 15 in their correct positions at this point.

When you look ahead to the championship you can probably look at goalkeeper Patrick Collins and veteran forwards Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan as players that you can confidently say will line up in specific positions against Limerick come championship time.

There are possibly 10 others who you would be confident of being involved against the All-Ireland Champions, but you would be slow on putting the house on the number on the back of their jersey for the championship opener.

For instance, will Tim O’Mahony still be a defender by then?

The same could be said of Colm Spillane. Either, or both, could be part of a physical half-forward line if Cork coach Kieran Kingston wanted to go a very different way this year.

Will Robert Downey be in the half-back line or at full-back? Will Bill Cooper still be at midfield or might he be deployed in the half-back line, with more youthful legs played in the centre?

Will Mark Coleman be pushed into a midfield role to utilise his strengths further forward, and similarly with Darragh Fitzgibbon, would Cork be better served with him in the half-forward line, running right at the heart of opposition defenders?

Darragh Fitzgibbon drives the sliotar downfield for UCC, where he was often used as a half-forward. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Darragh Fitzgibbon drives the sliotar downfield for UCC, where he was often used as a half-forward. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

We could go on. Declan Dalton, Luke Meade, Shane Kingston, etc.

It is the inevitable by-product of a team that is viewed as being in transition that all bets are off when it comes to selection. And for Cork this year that is exactly as it should be.

If we see 12 or 13 players lining up in the same positions and playing the same type of hurling that we saw last October then we can expect the same type of results.

Change is very much required.

The Cork sides of 2017 and 2018 that garnered two Munster titles were very close to making the breakthrough at All-Ireland level, but ultimately they did not quite crack it, and it is high time that Cork go in a different direction.

Options are a-plenty in this regard, with lots of new faces having been introduced to the panel since the championship defeat to Tipperary late last year in Limerick. In saying that, we can expect the core of the team to remain the same.

The point here is that a lot of the current panel could be redeployed in other parts of the field for the benefit of their own performances, as well as that of the team.

There is obviously no chance of Cork fielding a brand new half-back line in the championship of Dáire Connery-James O’Flynn-Billy Hennessy, or a debutant midfield pairing of Niall Cashman and Daniel Meaney. There will be no babies thrown out with the bathwater.

 Erins Own's James O'Flynn on the burst past Sarsfields Cillian Roche last season. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Erins Own's James O'Flynn on the burst past Sarsfields Cillian Roche last season. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

In the five league games to come, Cork fans will be hoping that all of these players, and others in other parts of the pitch, will get opportunities, and that good form gets rewarded over reputation.

Throwing a load of new faces in at the same time would be a recipe for disaster though. Instead, what Kingston and his selectors should be looking to do is to bring in new players alongside experienced campaigners, thereby assisting with their transition to the senior ranks.

We are all long enough in the tooth to realise that there are very rarely wholesale changes from year to year. 

Every now and then there is an influx, such as the six debutants that Jimmy Barry-Murphy sprung in 1999, or when Kingston himself introduced plenty new blood in 2017, but in reality, Cork would just be hoping for two or three new faces to augment what is already there.

It cannot be overstated that patience must be shown with the new faces in the squad and it must be accepted, and indeed expected, that it might take a year or two for some of them to mature to the point where they are realistic options at senior level.

Some players take to senior inter-county fare like ducks to water, but others do not, and that year or two taken to adapt is money in the bank in the long-term.

In saying that, some of the ‘newcomers’ are slightly older and more physically developed, and so the expectancy around those will be higher in the short term. Niall Cashman is 25 years of age, for instance, while Erins Own’s James O’Flynn was a Cork minor way back in 2013, and Daniel Meaney was a dual minor in 2014, so these players are not being brought along for their development. They are in the squad for the here and now.

We all probably have opinions as to who should come straight into the side right now, but every year or two someone bolts out of the blue and nails down a place on the team in unexpected fashion.

Maximising the contributions of Cork’s core players is as important an aspect to the future success of this team as is the influx of fresh new talent. Ultimately Cork need a bit from column A on this score, and a bit from column B.

Getting this balance right will decide whether Cork have a successful year or not.

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