THE Cork footballers and hurlers got the year off to a flier last week.
Both of them despatched their Kerry counterparts in their respective early season tournaments, and while no one will be getting carried away with the results, we can certainly all agree that it is good to see both teams back in action again.
The footballers hadn’t been seen since losing their All-Ireland quarter-final to Dublin on 25 June, while the hurlers hung up their ash a week earlier on 18 June after succumbing to Galway in Thurles. It has been a long six months plus, so we’ll take a bit of McGrath Cup or Co-op Superstores Munster Hurling League action right now, thank you very much.
John Cleary’s footballers were first to enter the fray last Wednesday, beating an understrength Kerry side by 5-11 to 0-14 at Páirc Uí Rinn.
Beating a second-string Kingdom side in the first week of January is all well and good, but feet will remain firmly on the ground on Leeside. There are many hoops to be negotiated before anyone considers Cork as All-Ireland contenders again, but it certainly is a good way to start down that road.
When Cork are laying down a marker as one of the strongest sides in Division 2 and threatening promotion to the top tier, and when they have scalped a Division 1 side in the championship, maybe we’ll revisit those odds again, but in the meantime, it is hard not to be encouraged by the team that John Cleary and his backroom team are beginning to put together.
There was a considerable amount of tut-tutting throughout the county when Tom Clancy, Brian O’Driscoll and Ruairí Deane were all asked back, but for a panel lacking in terms of experience and physicality in key sectors of the pitch, it could end up being an inspired call. O’Driscoll started against Kerry at wing forward and the Tadhg MacCarthaigh club man notched 1-2 on the night. With talisman Sean Powter alongside him on the 40, what was arguably Cork’s weakest line in 2022 could turn into one of its strongest this year.
Colm O’Callaghan was the big story with the 2-4 he registered from midfield. The Éire Óg man improved significantly in 2022 and hopefully that rate of improvement continues into this year. He has always been liable to raise a few green flags, but adding more of a point-scoring threat would be a significant weapon to have from midfield going forward.
The hurlers' victory on Thursday in Tralee would not have caused as many ripples, and arguably the biggest story around Pat Ryan’s panel at the minute is how the injury list is starting to rival that of Munster’s. Mark Coleman, Alan Connolly, Daire O’Leary and Darragh Fitzgibbon were all on the absent list before this one and the sight of Shane Kingston and Ben Cunningham, after only being on the pitch a matter of minutes, hobbling off was certainly a downer. Still, if you are going to pick up injuries this is the perfect time of year to get them – best to get them out of the way early!
He was handed the number five jersey and if he remains at wing-back then we can expect opposition keepers to avoid his wing from puck-outs.
Declan Dalton helped himself to 1-7 in at full forward, with five of those points coming from play. It just seems nonsensical to have a ball striker of his capability and not to be utilising it. The big question is probably as to how you would fit Dalton and Patrick Horgan in the same side, given neither are out-and-out speedsters, but it will be fun finding out over the course of the league.
Shane Barrett, with 1-3 in a half, Cormac Beausang, with 0-3 in his half, and Alan Cadogan, with four points, also all put their hands up for places in a forward line that is certainly not lacking in options.
It certainly was an encouraging start to what will hopefully be a longer year this time around for both sides.