CORK have looked a completely different team in their last two championship outings against Waterford and Tipperary, and fans will be hoping this trend continues as we head towards the business end of the campaign.
There are a number of reasons for Cork’s impressive midseason turnaround. There have been some key personnel switches, such as Ciaran Joyce to centre-back, Mark Coleman in his more natural home at wing-back and Tim O’Mahony is being utilised as a forward for the first time in years.
The penny has also dropped with regards the manic work-rate that is now required by the entire team, with the tackling stats jumping to new highs in the past two games, which has been a key element in the performance hike.
They are now going more direct into the likes of Alan Connolly in the forward line, which has the dual benefits of relieving pressure off the Cork defence while ensuring the attackers get early ball.
One of the main features around this more direct approach has been O’Mahony off the bench to add yet another physical ball-winning outlet. The problem with the Newtown man coming on is that it has worked too well, and surely we are soon reaching the point where he stops becoming an impact sub and he becomes Connolly’s partner in crime at the top of the re-jigged Cork attack.
If this is to be the case then this could present another issue down the line for Kieran Kingston and his managerial staff as suddenly they might look towards their bench for further forwards who suit this more direct approach and find that they have no one that suits, should Connolly or O’Mahony require replacing, or assistance.
That is not saying that there would not be quality attackers on the pine, rather the attributes of these players might be more suited to a different style of hurling.
Jack O’Connor would not be renowned for his ball-winning abilities, and in any case, despite him being a noted corner-forward, the best place to put him late on against tired defences is to get him on ball in the midfield, half-forward areas where he can utilise his searing pace. His two points in the closing stages of the Tipp game were testament to this.
And, of course, who can forget the brilliant goal he scored from deep against Kilkenny in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
Shane Barrett is still looking to nail down his best position within this set-up, although it does look like that could be slightly further out the field as well.
Alan Cadogan could certainly do a job up top, as he would gobble up any precision ball into space, but he might not be the best option if Cork are going to keep their goal-hungry tag going, considering he has only scored three championship goals for Cork in 26 appearances.
For players more suited to this new, more direct style Cork do not need to look far.
He only got one brief outing in the league however and hasn't been included in any championship squads.
Declan Dalton has had a huge amount of injury issues, but is back hurling with Fr O’Neill’s again, and he too would add something unique should he be called upon. He wouldn’t have the blistering pace of others, but certainly would offer plenty in terms of physicality, ball striking and directness.
The panel does appear to be fluid, so there is no reason why it cannot keep evolving and improving.
Tommy O’Connell has become an important member of the team off the bench in recent games, while the Roche twins seem to be creeping closer to involvement all the time.
Cork have certainly improved in the last two matches, but there is scope for even more improvement, which is probably needed, if Cork are to take the next step.