Cork v Limerick: Talking points as hurlers regroup for Páirc Uí Chaoimh showdown

Éamonn Murphy looks at three issues heading into the championship on Easter Sunday
Cork v Limerick: Talking points as hurlers regroup for Páirc Uí Chaoimh showdown

Conor Prunty of Waterford keeps a close eye on Patrick Horgan of Cork as the sun sets in the distance. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

THE COLEMAN CONUNDRUM:

Outside of bonafide Leeside Legend Patrick Horgan, Mark Coleman is the most gifted hurler in the squad: outrageous skill, wonderful wrists, perfect touch, blessed with vision.

Though he prefers to do his talking on the pitch, he was an ideal choice this season to succeed Hoggie as captain.

It was a sign the torch has been passed to the 2015 minor crop, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Shane Kingston, Robbie O'Flynn, Tim O'Mahony and co, who now backbone the team. Coleman had some brilliant games in the league, especially the victories over Clare, Galway and Kilkenny in the Páirc, along with the road win over Limerick.

On those occasions, as a play-making centre-back he had a huge number of possessions, chipped in with points (finishing the league over with 0-13, five from play), and thanks to cover from Ger Millerick and Ciarán Joyce, primarily, wasn't exposed defensively.

The ease with which Waterford cut through the middle of the Rebel rearguard in the league final raised uncomfortable questions. 

Coleman doesn't have the steely presence of Cork's last great number six Ronan Curran, or more recent incumbents of the geansaí like Mark Ellis, Eoin Cadogan and Christopher Joyce. So to facilitate Coleman at centre-back, huge work-rate is required from the midfielders and half-forwards. That wasn't the case against the Déise.

Cork centre-back Mark Coleman gets away from Jack Prendergast of Waterford in the league final. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cork centre-back Mark Coleman gets away from Jack Prendergast of Waterford in the league final. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

While there has been talk about shifting Coleman further up the field and gambling on rookie Ciarán Joyce at centre-back, it's hard to see the management changing tack with such a short window to championship. 

As a collective, Cork need to tackle with far greater intensity and get their defensive match-ups right. 

Coleman will remain the heartbeat of the defence.

STARTERS VERSUS FINISHERS:

Even allowing for the debate about Coleman, the Cork defence is reasonably settled. Two from Niall O'Leary, Rob Downey and Damien Cahalane will start at the back.

Up front the question for Kieran Kingston and his selectors is what is more important, the starters or the impact subs?

Do Cork opt for the experience of Horgan, Seamus Harnedy and Conor Lehane? Or hold one of them back to inject a scoring burst? 

Conor Lehane takes on Kilkenny’s Michael Carey. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Conor Lehane takes on Kilkenny’s Michael Carey. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Shane Kingston is a lock to come into the front six after clipping three points in the second half of the league final, which means Alan Connolly will drop to the bench. He's an ideal replacement, young, fast and hungry for goals.

Harnedy was extremely wasteful against Waterford but his physicality and ball-winning can keep the towering Limerick half-back unit honest.

If Jack O'Connor had been fully fit across the spring there would be an argument to include him but he can inject raw pace and a goal threat as a sub.

Conor Cahalane has been excellent as a dog of war in the second half of league games, his unselfishness opening lanes for runners off his shoulder. 

Surprisingly, Luke Meade barely featured beyond the opening rounds of the league. As a utility option, he surely has high value in a round-robin championship.

ALL-IRELAND PROSPECTS:

Before the league final disappointment, Cork were viewed as All-Ireland contenders on a par with Waterford. Now the hope is they can get out of the provincial bearpit. That won't be straightforward, with just one game at home (thanks Ed Sheeran) and a trip to Walsh Park on the horizon.

The goal, as always in Cork, is to lift the Liam MacCarthy but all that matters over the coming weeks is finishing in the top three in Munster. That's far from a gimme.

LEAGUE SCORERS:

Patrick Horgan 1-41 (0-32 f, 0-2 65);

Shane Kingston 4-24 (0-14 f, 0-1 65);

Conor Lehane 1-19 (0-6 f);

Darragh Fitzgibbon 2-13;

Robbie O'Flynn 1-10;

Mark Coleman 0-13 (0-8 f);

Shane Barrett 0-9;

Alan Connolly 1-5;

Tim O’Mahony 1-5;

Seamus Harnedy 0-7;

Ciarán Joyce 0-6 (0-1 65);

Luke Meade 1-2;

Rob Downey 0-3 Jack O'Connor, Mark Keane 0-2;

Ger Millerick, Conor Cahalane, Colin O’Brien, Sam Quirke, Alan Cadogan, Padraig Power 0-1.

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