Considering the attention that had been given to new hurling rules during the inactivity period, it was perhaps surprising that they were not a huge factor in Sunday’s clash between Cork and Waterford.
The only real instance was one that was costly for Waterford as their midfielder Calum Lyons was shown a straight red card for a mistimed hit on Shane Kingston in the lead-up to Alan Connolly’s first goal. From the press box on Sunday afternoon, it seemed a harsh call by referee Seán Cleere but, looking at highlights on television afterwards showed that there was some merit to the call.
Speaking after the game, Cork selector Diarmuid O’Sullivan felt that the rules needed time to bed in before any judgement could be applied.
“Everyone’s going to have their own interpretations,” he said.
“Looking at TV last night, it was very stop-start at times, but I think you have to be fair and give the referees a chance to get up to speed with them.
“It’s a learning curve for them as much as us, so I don’t think you can be too critical the first weekend out.”
One instance in the first half that could have potentially been classed as a goalscoring opportunity was when Tim O’Mahony arrowed a ball from deep to Patrick Horgan, who managed to get goal-side of Waterford full-back Conor Prunty.
Horgan was hauled down by Prunty but it was only a ‘normal’ free, which of course he converted. It would have been harsh to have awarded a penalty and sin-binned Prunty, and the early stage of the game might have made a referee trigger-happy to show he was familiar with the new regulations, so credit to Mr Cleere for erring on the side of common sense.
Overall, there were a lot of positives for Cork, not least the fact that, against the wind, they had 13 second-half scores with just two wides (and one shot yielding a 65 with two goal attempts blocked and a free dropping short).
The aforementioned Lyons excelled from right half-back when Waterford beat in Cork last November, scoring the key goal and among the points, but his shooting sights were out in the first half on Sunday and Waterford’s long-range efforts were wayward in the first half, in particular.
An interesting piece inby Denis Walsh outlined how the changing game and players retreating back the field have allowed half-backs to become scoring weapons and Tim O’Mahony was a good example of that, notching two points (one a free). Darragh Fitzgibbon also had long-range scores, but this is an area with room for improvement.
Still, it was only one game and not all ills could be cured in one swoop. There were at least heartening signs in the scoring of five goals and the fact that some of this output came from the substitutes’ bench.
In the leagues of 2017, 2018 and 2019, Cork failed to score five goals across five games, making Sunday’s haul a clear sign of improvement.
The first goal was probably the best, and most encouraging from the fact that it was entirely worked by Cork, rather than being caused by a defensive slip.
Tim O’Mahony won Billy Nolan’s puck-out and he fed Luke Meade and continued his run, allowing him to take possession from Séamus Harnedy, to whom Meade had passed. O’Mahony was then able to find Darragh Fitzgibbon on the run and, though he could have taken an easy point or gone for a challenge goal attempt, he offloaded to O’Flynn, who was in a better position, one he profited from as he slotted past Nolan.
Jack O’Connor’s goal was just as pleasing, albeit in a different way, as Waterford weren’t allowed out easily and the Sarsfields man was able to finish well when given the opportunity.
The third goal, by Shane Kingston, was individually engineered but again pleasing that goal was the objective, while Alan Connolly showed good quality with the contrasting nature of his two finishes.
O’Sullivan was keen to make clear when he spoke to the media that one game was a small sample size, but it is nonetheless a foundation on which to build.