ONE of the successes of Cork’s Division 2 league campaign centred around the recall of St Finbarr’s sharp-shooter Steven Sherlock.
The 25-year-old missed the opening games against Roscommon and Clare due to the Barrs' involvement in the Munster and All-Ireland club championship.
But, Sherlock returned for the next game away to Derry and was ever-present thereafter, playing all five matches as Cork retained their status with a narrow last-day win over Offaly in Tullamore.
He finished top-scorer for the Rebels win an impressive 1-36, scoring the goal in the 1-16 to 1-12 home victory over Down.
Sherlock played minor for Cork in 2015 and was in the U21 side, which lost to Mayo in the following year’s All-Ireland final before being promoted to the senior squad in 2018, where he played six league games but didn’t figure in the championship.
The following season Sherlock played more championship games than league, six compared to one, but was then left out of Ronan McCarthy’s plans at the end of 2019.
However, such were his scoring exploits in helping the Barrs to county and provincial championship glory last season that a recall under new manager Keith Ricken was always on the cards.
And that decision proved wise, notably in the big games, highlighted by an excellent 0-10 against promoted Galway even though it ended in defeat and 0-9, including 0-5 from play, against Offaly, when it mattered.
Sherlock’s return has lifted some of the scoring burden off the shoulders of Brian Hurley, who’ll lead the team into the Munster championship for the first time as captain when Kerry come to town tomorrow week for a provincial semi-final.
The Castlehaven marksman ended the league with 1-22 from six games, missing out on the Galway encounter after the rigours of being involved in nearly every game, including the McGrath Cup, took a tool.
Hurley’s goal came in his 1-4 return from the 1-13 each draw with Clare at Pairc Ui Chaomh-his highest return-in addition to his 0-6 in the opening game against Roscommon while Hurley’s 0-3 against Offaly was another notable contribution.
His club colleague John Cleary, the interim manager in the absence of Ricken on health grounds, is sure to pencil this pair in for starting berths in the inside line to face the best team in the country.
But, what happens in filling the rest of the forward sector is packed with all kinds of combinations and partnerships, particularly in striking a balance with the need to help out when Cork don’t have possession of the football.
For example, will Cork go with a third forward playing close to goal like Cathail O’Mahony, whose welcome return from injury for the closing games against Down and Offaly proved so positive?
The Mitchelstown player struck 0-3 and 1-1 respectively and looked very sharp on the ball when Cork with a full-forward line of Sherlock, Hurley and O’Mahony on both occasions.
Even with so limited appearances, O’Mahony’s total of 1-4 was still good enough to fill joint-third spot in the scoring charts, marginally behind Blake Murphy, who recorded 1-5.
It was an impressive return from the St Vincent’s club-man on the basis he started just three times, including an 0-3 contribution for his opener against Clare and scoring 1-2 against Galway.
Murphy’s shoot-on-sight approach occupies one of those risk-and-rewards categories with obvious benefits, when he’s in the zone.
While Cork were involved in a tense survival climax to the league, they finished third highest scorers with 6-94 behind promoted Galway and Roscommon and ahead of Derry, who were third in the table.
It may be the case that Cork will opt for two of the trio for starting roles and spring the other from the bench as an impact substitute.
(0-22 f, 1 45) S Sherlock (St Finbarr’s)
(0-7 f, 0-1 45, 0-1 mark) B Hurley (Castlehaven)
B Murphy (St Vincent’s)
J O’Rourke (Carbery Rangers)
C O’Mahony (Mitchelstown)
K O’Donovan (Nemo Rangers), C O’Callaghan (Éire Óg)
J Grimes (Clonakilty), D O’Connell (Kanturk)
M Taylor (Mallow)
M Cronin (Nemo Rangers), F Herlihy (Dohenys), D Dineen (Cill na Martra)
D Buckley (Newcestown), S Powter (Douglas, 1 free), T Corkery (Cill na Martra), I Maguire (St Finbarr’s), R Maguire (Castlehaven), C Kiely (Ballincollig).