FOR all the progress made in recent weeks to develop the Cork panel, their reliance on Patrick Horgan in the second half at the Gaelic Grounds last weekend was a concern.
Granted, the Rebel captain is one of the most gifted and influential hurlers the county has ever produced, but ideally, he would have been fully rested against the All-Ireland champions. In a world of trouble at half-time, fortunate to be just 10 points in arrears, the selectors introduced Horgan, Luke Meade and Niall Cashman, the rookie wing-back who had started the first three league games, and the second half was more positive.
Horgan chipped in with nine points, albeit just one from play, but his mere presence, in conjunction with a more aggressive, driven approach from the team collectively, lifted Cork.
Now, there were still beaten by eight points but could easily have stuck another couple of goals to go with the pair Jack O’Connor nailed. Horgan changed the tone and tempo of the battle.
Look, it was a tricky game for Kieran Kingston and his selectors to approach. They’re facing Limerick again on July 3 in the Munster semi-final and the All-Ireland champions hadn’t been at their best in the opening weeks of the campaign, so were hugely motivated last Saturday.
While they’d a more experienced line-up than Cork, Limerick were shorn of powerful figures like Gearóid Hegarty, Seamus Flanagan, Kyle Hayes and Dan Morrissey.
The gap in physicality between the counties is the biggest concern before the championship rematch, and it’s why this Sunday’s clash with Galway will be interesting.
The Tribe are the strongest and tallest unit in hurling outside of Limerick and while they don’t utilise the exact same tactics, their 2017 triumph was similar to Limerick’s recent All-Irelands. It was built on size and deadly long-range shooting, without the need to raise green flags.
This season so far they appeared to have upped the ante again, taking Waterford for four goals last weekend.
Cork are going down a different route from the trend-setters, certainly influenced by the addition of Donal O’Grady to the backroom, but also based on the type of players at their disposal. Darragh Fitzgibbon, Robbie O’Flynn and Shane Kingston have blistering pace and Mark Coleman is the ideal modern quarterback from defence.
Before the Limerick loss, Coleman was imperious at number six, but when tasked with marking Cian Lynch as well as dictating the flow of the play, he’d a very sticky 35 minutes. Limerick’s full-court press on Cork’s puck-outs put a real squeeze on the running game and a series of points came from cheap turnovers.
Now Coleman didn’t have Seán O’Donoghue or Tim O’Mahony alongside him in the Rebel rearguard against the Treaty, or Fitzgibbon in the nine geansaí, but aside from Damien Cahalane popping up for a score, Cork’s defence was kept firmly on the backfoot.
Colm Spillane’s ongoing absence through injury is being keenly felt and it’s pity Eoin Cadogan was been restricted to just one appearance. Even at 35, his attitude and composure are valuable in a young squad.
The ease with which Cork were pushed off the sliotar by Limerick was alarming but you can be sure Kingston and his selectors will remain upbeat, stick to the new style and absorb the lessons from the Gaelic Grounds. The Galway tie does become important in terms of restoring faith in the new process and proving Cork can cope with brawn.
In hurling, without coming across as Yoda: ‘Size matters not’, work-rate and commitment to the ball are as important as sheer physicality. That’ll be key against Galway this weekend and beyond.
Patrick Horgan 3-31 (0-21 f, 0-4 65),
Alan Connolly 4-2,
Jack O’Connor 3-1,
Alan Cadogan 1-7,
Shane Barrett 1-5,
Tim O’Mahony 1-5 (0-1 f),
Darragh Fitzgibbon 0-6,
Luke Meade, Robbie O’Flynn 1-3 each,
Shane Kingston 1-2,
Daire Connery 0-4 (0-2 f),
Conor Cahalane 0-3,
Brian Turnbull, Declan Dalton, Mark Coleman 0-2 f each,
Rob Downey, Seán Twomey, Seán O’Leary Hayes, Damien Cahalane, Séamus Harnedy 0-1 each.
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