Tim O'Mahony's best position? In modern hurling versatility is a vital asset

Éamonn Murphy looks at the debate about where best to deploy the Newtown hurler and suggests once he starts in the middle third it won't matter
Tim O'Mahony's best position? In modern hurling versatility is a vital asset

Tim O'Mahony clears from Westmeath's Niall Mitchell in the league recently. He's been Cork's most consistent hurler across the three games to date. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

WITH his size, strength and aggression, Tim O'Mahony is the closest Cork hurler to the towering ball-winners that Limerick built an All-Ireland winning team around.

Hailing from Newtownshandrum, a short spin from the Treaty border, the 24-year-old suits the wing-back berth Diarmuid Byrnes has excelled in or the attacking slot the rangy Gearóid Hegarty took to the next level in 2020. O'Mahony has some distance yet to run before he's a nailed-on inter-county star, but aside from Mark Coleman and Patrick Horgan he's been Cork's best player over the three championship matches last winter and the three league games to date in 2021.

While he's been marked down as one to watch since his teens, O'Mahony's progress hasn't been as linear as Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Shane Kingston, from the same development squad ranks. At minor level in 2015, he hadn't filled out yet but showed real promise regardless.

In a clear flaw in the Munster championship format, Cork ended up meeting Limerick twice, losing the second away without the injured Shane Kingston, but O'Mahony hit 1-4 across the two encounters. In the second game, he broke his finger early on and hurled through the pain barrier. He has a hard edge you'd admire.

Tim O'Mahony leaves the pitch injured against Tipp in 2019. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Tim O'Mahony leaves the pitch injured against Tipp in 2019. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

At U21 two years later he wasn't a starter in Cork's victory in Waterford, coming on before the break, but he was wearing number 13 in the subsequent provincial final loss to Limerick, burying a cracking goal.

John Meyler moved from U21 bainsteoir to the senior job in 2018 and O'Mahony was recast as a centre-back for the league. Come championship, they reverted to the tried and trusted but only after O'Mahony fractured his elbow with Newtown.

In 2019 it was a similar scenario, anchoring the defence in the spring but this time he started in the six geansaí in the defeat to Tipp. It was a collectively subpar effort from the Rebels but as a consequence, O'Mahony dropped to the bench and Mark Ellis was restored for the win over Limerick the following week.

The then 22-year-old excelled as a second-half replacement in midfield when Kilkenny knocked Cork in of the quarter-final stage, which led to more uncertainty about his best position. 

At U21 in 2018, Denis Ring and his selectors placed him at the edge of the square and he caused wreck at times, including a 2-2 salvo in the All-Ireland semi-final win over Wexford. In a towering 2019 club defeat of Blackrock, his haul was 1-5 from play after moving into full-forward due to a leg injury. 

Newtown's Tim O'Mahony shoots from Erin's Owns' Robbie O'Flynn during the Co-Op Superstores SAHC at Glantane. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Newtown's Tim O'Mahony shoots from Erin's Owns' Robbie O'Flynn during the Co-Op Superstores SAHC at Glantane. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

In Fitzgibbon Cup action for Mary Immaculate College, he was capable of shooting the lights out in one half and dropping deep to cover the rearguard in the next. 

Clearly, Kieran Kingston's management has him earmarked as a key figure this summer. He's started the wins over Waterford and Westmeath and the draw with Tipp in three positions, wing-back, centre-back and midfield and was comfortable in every outing.

His ferocity means he coughs too many cheap frees to operate as a traditional man-maker. Freed and running directly from deep he can be a lethal weapon and showed as much in the Déise win, though they were missing a number of marquee hurlers. There will always be locked down positions in a hurling team, but flexibility and adaptability are now cornerstones of the more tactical modern game.

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