With 210 hurling championship minutes played by Cork so far this year, five players have been ever-present.
Goalkeeper Patrick Collins, defenders Niall O’Leary, Ciarán Joyce and captain Mark Coleman as well as midfielder Darragh Fitzgibbon have logged the full time, while Seán O’Donoghue would be in that bracket but for 11 minutes of treatment during the opener against Limerick, when he was temporarily replaced by Robert Downey.
Robbie O’Flynn is the Cork forward with the most game-time so far this year, only being called in with six minutes remaining against Waterford last Sunday, and he is followed by Patrick Horgan, who was replaced by Tim O’Mahony with a half-hour left.
At the other end of the scale are Brian Roche of Bride Rovers, who made his championship debut against Waterford as an injury-time sub for Conor Lehane, and Mark Keane, whose stint as a substitute against Clare was prematurely halted with a red card that ruled him out of the trip Suirside.
In total, Cork have used 23 players across three games, which compares with the same for Waterford, 24 for Tipperary and 25 for Clare. Limerick, who have completed their four-game programme, did so fielding 23 different players, but amazingly 17 of those scored at least a point. The Shannonsiders are well out in front of everyone else on that metric, with Tipperary next with 14 and Cork, Clare and Waterford each tallying 12 scorers.
For Cork, Horgan is the leader with 23 points, 18 from dead balls, and he is the only Cork player to have scored more than once in each of the three games. Conor Lehane, Shane Kingston and Darragh Fitzgibbon have been on target at least once a game, while Alan Connolly’s personal tally of 3-1 was amassed in just 129 minutes of game-time – a rate of a goal every 43 minutes.
The Blackrock man is responsible for 60 percent of Cork’s green flags, with Fitzgibbon and Shane Kingston registering one each. Sunday was the first time since the league game against Galway in March that Cork had won a game and scored more goals than the opposition – they out-goaled Clare 2-0 in their loss in Thurles – and five from isn’t a bad return, the same as Waterford and bettered only by Limerick’s six from four. Similarly, while the four goals shipped against Waterford in the league final opened Cork up to criticisms of being too easy to get at, they have only allowed three since – two to Limerick and one to Waterford. Only Limerick can match that, with Tipperary’s eight goals conceded a source of hope as Cork look for a win in their final group game on Sunday.
Apart from the Shane Kingston strike inside the opening quarter of a minute in the game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Limerick’s other two goal concessions came in the match against Waterford at TUS Gaelic Grounds and the perception of those two scores, by Stephen Bennett and Jack Prendergast, is indicative of how the landscape can shift so rapidly in the current system.
At the time, a 0-30 to 2-21 defeat was given as a sign of how close the counties were, that match the first of an expected trilogy that would take in the Munster and All-Ireland finals. The two goals were considered to be indicative of how Waterford had found a way to get at Limerick but now, with the Déise having lost to Cork too, the question is whether they masked a greater chasm between the counties, especially as Limerick were without Séamus Flanagan, Peter Casey and Kyle Hayes and lost Cian Lynch early on but still came through.
Now, with Clare having won two and then drawn with the champions, they are seen as the strongest pretenders to the throne and will have a chance to show if that is justified in the Munster final on the Sunday of the June bank holiday weekend.
Cork know all too well how quickly the mantle of challengers can be bestowed and then taken away, having been on the crest of a wave before the league final only to drop dramatically and seemingly terminally.
Thankfully, that was not the case, but on Sunday Kieran Kingston was keen to make clear that the win over Waterford was just that, a single victory, and it must be backed up again. This weekend, the picture should become a bit clearer.