OVER half-way through the second season of the group-phase of the county hurling championships and it’s fair to say the format has been a resounding success.
Okay, there are several repeat games from the initial instalment last season, but they don’t detract from the general well-being with a formula that wasn’t greeted enthusiastically by all, particularly the elder lemons, though they’ve probably come on board by now.
Across the five grades from the top tier of premier senior hurling down to the lower intermediate level, which is on a stay of execution until the end of next season, the excitement is palpable.
It will reach even greater heights in less than three weeks, when the final group games will be played and the way paved for three quarter-finals and the dreaded relegation deciders.
Apart from a brief interruption late Saturday afternoon into that evening, the Gods have smiled benignly on players, who’ve responded in kind.
It has allowed them implement the modern game-plan of so-called ‘playing through the lines’ without conditions impacting on their styles.
You know what it is, the keeper taking a short puck-out to a corner-back, who might return it to the custodian or pick out another defender with another deft pass.
The new guy in possession will try to do the same with the result that it could take four or maybe even more passes for the sliotar to travel over the 65m line and on and on it goes.
But, what happens, when the weather turns, as it will as the season enters October and carries through to the business end of affairs in November?
Will coaches still insist on the current methods knowing the high risks of turning over the ball because of wet hands, a wet hurley, a wet sliotar and treacherous underfoot conditions?
Will players persist in adopting the short passing game knowing taking the ball into contact is going to be even more perilous, especially with twisting and turning made even more problematic, or will there be a more pragmatic approach of ‘let’s play the game at the other end of the pitch’?
The obvious issue with a more direct method is by-passing the usual sweeper, who’ll mop up any loose or poorly directed balls into the attack.
Another reason for all the excitement and anticipation is the actual season itself because the inter-county year is now consigned to history and Cork players can now focus totally on their clubs.
That’s particularly true in terms of the shooters because Shane Kingston, Pat Horgan and Darragh Fitzgibbon fill three of the leading positions in the scoring stakes, headed up by Aaron Myers of Sarsfields with 1-23.
Kingston is just a couple behind on 0-24 following Douglas’s wins over Glen Rovers and Newtownshandrum with Hoggie on 1-18 and Fitzgibbon on 1-14.
Joining the Charleville player on 0-17 is Midleton’s Conor Lehane, no stranger to the Cork jersey, and his role in the Ben O’Connor-coached east Cork side reflects what the former inter-county star is trying to implement in his second season with Magpies.
Lehane opened with 0-11 against Carrigtwohill and added six more in the recent win over Na Piarsaigh, a mixture of scores from play, frees and ’65s.
Numbers on the backs of jerseys, which must be commented on because they’re readily identifiable and plaudits to all concerned, mean very little once the ball is thrown in.
Lehane wears 10, but rarely stays at right half-forward, roaming around the pitch as he did against Na Piarsaigh on Friday night and showing impressive accuracy from the left, as well.
And it’s the same with full-forward Cormac Beausang, who chipped in with seven points from play against the city club, but hardly any came from the tradition number 14 role.
He, too, wandered around the forward division to telling effect and it must be a nightmare for defenders trying to keep tabs on such movement.