ONE of the most common cliches relating to modern GAA is the notion that “there’s no such thing as positions nowadays”.
Probably used more in terms of football, it’s just as (slightly incorrectly) applicable to hurling – while there are of course still positions, it’s accurate to say that there is far more fluidity to them.
Gone are the days where you had your patch and you went toe-to-toe or hand-to-hand with your direct opponent over the hour or 60 minutes unless there was a switch or a substitution; instead, now there are myriad different systems and zonal marking and free men. Versatility and adaptability are now considered to be essentials rather than desirables on the part of management.
That is evident even after just three Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A games for Cork this year, with the six midfield slots having been manned by five different players – Billy Hennessy in the first two games the only one to have featured there twice.
Hennessy is a player who would be just as comfortable in the half-back line, where Tim O’Mahony has played when not in midfield, while Darragh Fitzgibbon is equally at home at centrefield or in the half-forward line.
Daire Connery, Fitzgibbon’s partner at midfield on Sunday, had come on at left half-back against Tipp and didn’t look out of place in either spot.
Similarly, while Mark Coleman – rested on Sunday – looks to be making the number 6 jersey his own, he has shown his breadth of expertise at club level for Blarney and UCC. While he has done most of his senior hurling for Cork at left half-back, midfield isn’t an area unknown to him either and, after the draw with Tipperary ten days ago, manager Kieran Kingston underlined the options he provides.
“We all know how good Mark is,” he said.
Thus far, Niall Cashman is the only player to start all three games in the half-back line, while Luke Meade has been ever-present in the half-forward line – incidentally, playing in all three spots and never corresponding with the jersey number on his back. The Newcestown man has worn number 15 in the last two matches while stationed further from goal while Patrick Horgan, full-forward in the three games, has carried numbers 14, 13 and 11.
The ‘real’ number 13, Alan Cadogan, had that on his back against Westmeath, having worn on his return 14 against Tipp and showed no ill-effects of a year out in either game, posting returns of 0-3 and 1-4 respectively.
While the scoring output on Sunday needs to be taken with a pinch of salt on the one hand – the time and space afford Cork was greater than it will be against Limerick on Saturday week, for instance – there was still a refreshing dead-eyed quality to the shooting and 14 goals in three games isn’t to be sniffed at. Similarly, 11 scorers on Sunday, including two off the bench, bodes well in terms of the versatility mentioned above.
Just as Cork’s style can leave some traditionalists cold, there is similarly a fear that too much chopping and changing is not a good thing with the championship so close to hand, but it’s merely another symptom of the modern game.
If nothing else, given how intricate the system is, playing in more than one spot means that you know what the other players are looking for when you’re linking up with them.
It’s all gearing up nicely for the biggest test of the year to date on Shannonside in 12 days’ time, though of course, that will have a phony war asterisk attached, given the counties’ championship meeting is just a few weeks later.
The intensity is rising, bit by bit, though, and Cork are currently matching it well.