Analysis: Ruthless streak will stand to Cork hurlers this summer

Despite missing key players through injury, hosts stitched seven goals past Westmeath
Analysis: Ruthless streak will stand to Cork hurlers this summer

Cork's Alan Cadogan shoots from Westmeath's Brendan Doyle during the Allianz Division 1A NHL at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

CORK used this league outing against Westmeath to refine elements of the game-plan in operation across the opening rounds.

Even with the gale blowing into the Atlantic Pond in the first half, they ran possession or used angled stick passes to bring the sliotar up the field. There were few long-range pots at the posts with the wind, though Tim O'Mahony did nail two scores from wing. 

Instead, Cork hunted goals and by the break, they'd three and come the 51st minute that haul was seven. 

It was brutal but encouraging from a Rebel perspective. Goals are at a premium in modern hurling but Cork have the speed to get them. To succeed later this summer they'll need them too.

Alan Connolly profited from a precise delivery from Daire Connery for the first goal and in the second quarter, aggressive tackling from Patrick Horgan and Conor Cahalane led to green flags for Luke Meade and Horgan, respectively. For both easy point-chances were turned down by Shane Barrett and Connolly.

Alan Connolly gets the opening goal. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Alan Connolly gets the opening goal. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Mark Coleman was rested so Tim O'Mahony was at centre-back or as a sweeper and though he was guilty of a couple of sloppy passes, was on the world of ball in that first half. Seán O'Donoghue is a tank of a corner-back but his touch has been sublime in the league and once out in front, there's simply no stopping him.

The back-line was pretty tight in general, notwithstanding the poverty of the opposition. Behind them, newcomer in goal Ger Collins was assured enough in the air and with his puck-outs to suggest he'll press his older brother Patrick for the number one geansaí in time. 

What was a tight tussle in the opening 15 minutes, 1-4 to 0-4, was over at half-time: 3-14 to 0-9. Westmeath were honest but Cork had far too much hurling and are a physically stronger and harder working unit than we've seen in recent seasons.  

The third quarter quickly developed into a ruthless rout. Connolly and Horgan both stuck second goals, with Barrett and Cadogan also burying chances. Westmeath didn't even score in this period, leaving it 7-19 to 0-9 at the second water break. Again the passing was crisp, particularly debutant Simon Kennefick in squaring for Connolly.

The fourth quarter was shapeless given the raft of replacements introduced but Cork didn't concede a goal, another major plus.

Seán O'Donoghue breaks from Westmeath's Eoghan Ahearn. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Seán O'Donoghue breaks from Westmeath's Eoghan Ahearn. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Cork's starting centre-field pairing was intriguing. Roll the clock back to 2017 and a Darragh and Daire double-act at midfield for the seniors seemed inevitable down the road. 

Connery was ripping it up with the U17s and minors that summer from the centre as they reached All-Ireland finals in both, while Fitzgibbon's breakthrough season saw the seniors lift the Munster crown.

Since then, Connery's progression through the ranks has been slower than expected. What is forgotten though, is he doesn't turn 21 until August and has been hindered by a few injuries. His championship debut against Waterford last year didn't go according to plan but his form with the U20s in beating Limerick and Tipp was slick.

While his father Christy was a teak-tough defender with Cork teams and as a county champion with Na Piarsaigh, Daire has perhaps suffered for his versatility. At U21 for Cork three years ago he was deployed as a half-forward off the bench.

As a standout minor when still U16, he was wing-back for his club and his best displays in black and amber at senior have also been there. Connery was sharp at left half-back as a sub in the draw with Tipp.

Midfield is an obvious showcase for his quick wrists and long-range shooting. In the opening period, he had 1-2 in assists and was involved in Horgan's goal. In the second half he arrowed over a decent point from play and converted two frees when Horgan came off.

Fitzgibbon took a while to get involved, but by the break, he'd three assists and a point of his own after a sizzling scooped pop-pass from Tim O'Mahony. In the third quarter, another point from play was followed by a goal assist for Cadogan and then he was withdrawn.

Connery was also taken off as seven subs were utilised but it'll be interesting to see if the management go for the Charleville-Piarsaigh axis again.

While they certainly weren't missed on this occasion, it has to be a concern that Cork lost three marquee forwards to hamstring issues in recent weeks: Shane Kingston, Robbie O'Flynn and Seamus Harnedy. Deccie Dalton and Colm Spillane haven't featured in the league to date. All five were starters last winter.

DEPTH

Since the 2018 All-Ireland final increasing the viable championship options in the panel has been a priority. Despite releasing some big names in the off-season, the injection of youth seems to have done that, but only if absences through injury are minimised.

The sample size is just three games but competition for the first 15 is intense at this juncture. 

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