WHEN someone like Seamus Harnedy or Conor Lehane performs to anywhere close to their maximum ability when helping Cork to victory then they are guaranteed to receive their share of the plaudits.
Often these performances stem from the unseen work done by some of their less-heralded teammates.
Former Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash was, in the past week, speaking on The42′s GAA Weekly podcast, and while complimenting the Cork effort in Walsh Park against Waterford he singled out one player in particular for special praise, Newcestown’s Luke Meade.
“Can I just mention one fella I loved playing with and he is the most underrated hurler in the county, Luke Meade.
“You go two games into the championship every year, next thing Luke isn’t playing. Shit hits the fan and backs to the wall, throw Luke in.
“All of a sudden it clicks. Fitzgibbon has a great game because Luke does the intelligent work beside him. Luke is only my height. He won’t bench 200kg in the weights room but his head, anyone who played with him in Mary I would say the same. Really intelligent.
As Nash states Meade is no colossus, although to be fair to him he does actually stretch all the way to six-foot, so he is hardly diminutive, but the point is he does not look like the typical modern prototype midfielder. In an era when giants like 6' 5" William O’Donoghue of Limerick and 6' 4" Cathal Malone of Clare dominate the middle eight dogfights of Munster Championship combat Meade would appear to be a middleweight caught in the ring with a bunch of axe-wielding heavyweights.
It is a weight mismatch, and that is why Meade tends to get the hook when the Cork machine stutters. When they struggle it is invariably because they are finding themselves on the wrong side of the collisions and in the general physicality stakes, and as a consequence, a player like Meade, whose game does not revolve around physicality can be one of the first to get the crooked finger from the sideline.
His clever positioning, sure touch, excellent passing, effective tackling and appetite for work can be quickly forgotten when a manager needs to shake things up.
Of course, Meade is not the first Cork player to perform a vital role within the team set up to be underappreciated by the Cork hurling supporters. Youghal’s Bill Cooper gave a decade in the blood and bandages driving Cork forward from wing forward or in his later midfield role and for many years hurlers on the ditch questioned his place on the team.
It was only on his retirement last year that it quickly became glaringly obvious how much physicality was lost to the Cork engine room due to his departure from the panel.
He had arrived on the scene as a swashbuckling forward but often had to sacrifice his own game for the good of the team, although this wouldn’t have been readily obvious to the support. Alongside him, Niall McCarthy might not have had some of the skills of Ben O’Connor or Joe Deane but without his contribution the Cork attack of that era would have been extremely flat.
Similar players from other All-Ireland winning teams like Mallow’s Fergal McCormack or, another Newcestown native, Tim Crowley, probably operated under the radar for the most part, but they were the glue that allowed some of the more stellar names to do their stuff.
Ultimately, Cork need the unsung heroes like Meade if they are to prevail, but that does not necessarily have to be Meade either. Bride Rovers’ Brian Roche or Midleton’s Sam Quirke showed in the All-Ireland U20 wins that they are well able to scrap for dirty ball. The likes of Sean Twomey or Mark Keane could be dropped back into midfield to provide more ballast.
There are plenty of options in this regard and you get the feeling that if/when Cork do eventually put it up to Limerick in a white-hot championship battle that it will because they have stumbled across the right blend of workers and hurlers in the middle eight.