Assessing the positives and negatives for the Cork hurlers after the league

Cork lost their last league game 3-25 to 2-23 in the Páirc. Éamonn Murphy looks across the five matches since May to see what we can take into championship.
Assessing the positives and negatives for the Cork hurlers after the league

Patrick Horgan fires a reverse handpass away from Gearoid McInerney and Cathal Mannion of Galway to set up Conor Cahalane's goal. Picture:INPHO/Ryan Byrne

FIVE league games, two wins, two losses and a draw, but what does it mean for championship?

Here are three positives and three negatives from the season so far.


1. GAME PLAN: There are obvious issues with a short puck-out, hard-running-based approach. A high press on a crisp summer afternoon could be fatal to the Rebels come championship. A cheap goal coughed up in a high-stakes encounter would rattle any team's confidence, let alone a side that has endured a couple of disappointing seasons.

We saw Galway punished by Jack O'Connor in the first half at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday.

But the key takeaway from the league is that Cork now have a clearly defined game plan for July. In Mark Coleman, Tim O'Mahony, Seán O'Donoghue and Darragh Fitzgibbon there are reliable outlets for short restarts for Pa Collins. 

With Donal O'Grady in the backroom, Cork can call on one of the shrewdest hurling minds in the county. Kieran Kingston, Diarmuid O'Sullivan and Ger Cunningham (in his third stint as a selector) have been around the block before too. A squeezed preseason on the back of a rammed club schedule didn't help Cork last winter but they're in a far better place now.

Granted the opening 35 minutes away to Limerick, and the ease with which Cork players were horsed off the sliotar was alarming. In sweltering conditions, they melted away in the fourth quarter at the hands of Galway.

Yet you can be sure the management learned a lot from the deficiencies on display. 

2. FRESH FACES: The management made some ruthless calls in the winter and to justify it they needed the rookies to step up. While not all the young hurlers have made the breakthrough, with Brian Turnbull opting to focus on club action with Douglas after a frustrating run marred by injuries, Alan Connolly and Shane Barrett have emerged as viable championship options up front.

Conor Cahalane, that bit older, has caught the eye with his physicality and honesty and Ger Millerick is a tenacious man-marker. Both could be there come throw-in next month against Limerick. 

Jack O'Connor started twice in the 2020 championship but the heavy pitches didn't suit him. This time he's an automatic for the opener with 4-3 to his credit across the league. 

Jake O'Connor of Cork in action against Padraic Mannion of Galway. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Jake O'Connor of Cork in action against Padraic Mannion of Galway. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

That in turn adds depth to the bench where Alan Cadogan would be a handful for any corner-back off the bench.

3. GOALS: We're regularly told 'goals win games' and while that's not always the case, Cork's have the pace and talent in attack to get in behind any backline. 

It would be naive to read too much into the open nature of the first half against Galway. The Tribe left Gearóid McInerney in acres of space on Patrick Horgan and didn't have cover to clog up the middle for Cork's runners. Yet raising green flags game after game is a great habit. 

Alan Connolly and Jack O'Connor did it four times each, Horgan added three, but there were also goals from Luke Meade, O'Mahony, Barrett, Cadogan Conor Cahalane and Kingston; 18 in total.

It's been said by expert analysts that you could need four goals to pierce Limerick's armour. We'll soon find out.


1. THE DRAW: This might not be directly related to league form, but having to take on Limerick in the first round of the Munster championship is the last draw Cork supporters wanted, whatever about the management and players.

The All-Ireland champions weren't at full tilt in the opening rounds of the league but offered a stark reminder of the class, self-belief and raw power at the Gaelic Grounds recently. Cork didn't have anything resembling a championship 15 on display but John Kiely didn't have Kyle Hayes, Gearóid Hegarty, Graeme Mulcahy, Seamus Flanagan, Nickie Quaid or Dan Morrissey in his line-up. 

When Cork did beat Limerick in 2019, their last championship clash, they were after knocking them off course in the league and had the element of surprise. Neither of those will be relevant factors in three weeks.

2. ABSENCE OF FANS: Cork supporters can be as critical and demanding as any in the country, but there's nothing to match that Rebel roar either. When the hurlers are motoring and the terrace is heaving in Semple Stadium or the Páirc, Cork can look unstoppable.

Fans make their way into Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Fans make their way into Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Will they pack the same punch without that, even though there will be a small crowd allowed into Thurles on July 3?

3. MARK COLEMAN'S ROLE: After Horgan, there's a legitimate case to be made for Coleman as Cork's best player. He was dubbed 'pure silk' by the Cork minors selectors as a 16-year-old and his reading of the play is matched by his wrists and touch. He's certainly not a traditional number six though. 

When allowed to dictate the tempo, quarterback a team, he's majestic, but Limerick put him on the backfoot with Cian Lynch at centre-forward and Conor Whelan slipped in behind him for a goal on Sunday.

Can Cork keep him centre-back but also free him up? And in doing so can they protect the middle? In the second half against Galway they were exposed for three goals.

Galway's Conor Cooney hits the net. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Galway's Conor Cooney hits the net. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne


Patrick Horgan 3-42 (0-30 f, 0-3 65), 

Jack O'Connor 4-3,

Alan Connolly 4-2, 

Alan Cadogan 1-7, 

Darragh Fitzgibbon 0-10

Shane Barrett 1-5,

Tim O'Mahony 1-5 (0-1 f), 

Robbie O'Flynn, Shane Kingston, Conor Cahalane 1-4 each,

Luke Meade 1-3,

Daire Connery 0-4 (0-2 f),

Mark Coleman 0-3 (0-2 f),

Brian Turnbull, Declan Dalton 0-2 f each,

Damien Cahalane, Rob Downey, Seán Twomey, Seán O'Leary Hayes, Séamus Harnedy 0-1 each.

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