DEPENDING on whether your glass of eggnog looks half empty or half full, the recent news that two of Cork’s leading players are going to miss a significant section of the 2023 campaign will either be seen as a catastrophic blow or a potential opportunity for the new Cork bainisteoir Pat Ryan.
In the past week the news filtered out of the Cork camp that both Mark Coleman and Alan Connolly are set for considerable spells on the sideline.
Former captain Coleman has a cartilage issue with his knee, but crucially it is not the dreaded cruciate injury that every player fears, and Ryan is hopeful that should Cork be one of the three teams to emerge from the round-robin Munster Championship campaign then he could well be fit for action from June onwards, for the latter stages of the All-Ireland Championship.
Connolly is expected to make that aforementioned Munster Championship, but the shoulder issue that he is recovering from is likely to see him miss the entire National Hurling League campaign.
I would imagine that Ryan would not be overly bothered about anyone being missing for this league campaign, even if it is the first competition that he leads Cork into, as quite frankly, this is a league that no team is likely to target, going on what happened in 2022.
Waterford, Wexford, and Cork all went for the league with all guns blazing, and each of them got their hands badly burnt, in various ways, with all three of their subsequent championship campaigns being severely hampered by their earlier efforts in the lesser competition.
So, Ryan is likely to use the league in an experimental manner, and the loss of both Coleman and Connolly will actually strangely help in this regard, as it will help in terms of building strength in depth for later in the year.
We can only guess what role the new manager had, or has, in mind for Coleman, but the most likely position for the Blarney man was back in his old left half-back berth, where he can be a playmaker without having to lock down the centre of defence.
His absence means that others will now be trialled in the famous no. 7 jersey, and we can expect that in Coleman’s absence Cork might trial a different approach.
We have been saying in these pages that we expect Ryan to look to make the Cork middle eight a much more physically imposing unit than in previous years, and with Coleman out he can achieve this by putting a physical player such as Glen Rovers’ Robert Downey in the shirt.
It remains to be seen whether his brother Eoin also gets a run in the side in the league, and a great deal of interest will centre on where the likes of Daire O’Leary, Mark Keane, and Ethan Twomey feature.
Possibly the most interesting question that has yet to be answered is the role that Newtownshandrum’s Tim O’Mahony is going to perform for Cork in 2023.
Realistically you can make a strong case for placing him in every line bar the full-back line, so it is very much a case of waiting and seeing on that one, but the likelihood of him being deployed in the half-back line certainly increased with the news that Coleman will be out for the foreseeable future.
In saying that, with Connolly also out you can make the exact same statement with regard the full-forward line.
Cork ended last year’s championship campaign with Connolly and O’Mahony both positioned close to the opposition goal in an attempt to create a more direct route to goal. It worked, to a certain extent, and as we expect Ryan to want Cork to be more direct, at times, it might be a bit much to lose both of them at once.
It would seem that cloning the Newtown man is the only realistic option!
Of course, the return to the panel of Fr O’Neill’s Declan Dalton and the switch of St Finbarr’s Brian Hayes from football, as well as the emergence of the likes of Courcey Rovers’ Sean Twomey, provide more options here.
Given that Ryan has his two All-Ireland U20 sides to bolster the current squad means that he is certainly not lacking for options anyway.