WE presume that Seán O’Donoghue wouldn’t mind if every competition in which he captains Cork is like the Co-op SuperStores Munster Hurling League.
Wins over Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary put that bit of silverware on the sideboard for the first time since 2017, with skipper O’Donoghue one of just two players, along with fellow back Robert Downey, to play every minute.
Added to the Canon O’Brien Cup win over UCC, it adds up to a positive start to the year in terms of being able to dig out results. For new manager Pat Ryan and his selectors, the pre-season tournament served a valuable purpose in terms of assessing his options.
“It's fantastic for us,” he said.
“I don't see why they can't happen maybe towards the end of December, that you could maybe get started there after Christmas and you could spread out the games a small bit more to give more time with the Fitzgibbon and stuff like that.
“But if it's on again next year we'll go into it again. It has served us well as we got games into our fellas.
“So we're delighted with it.”
As Ryan said, if Cork hadn’t been playing the final against Tipp last Sunday in Páirc Uí Rinn, they would have more than likely had a challenge match lined up instead and that wouldn’t be able to provide the same level of intensity.
The performance may not have been perfect, especially as an early lead had turned into an eight-point deficit with just 18 minutes remaining. However, Cork refused to submit and subs Brian Hayes and Jack O’Connor scored goals that helped to turn the game their way.
It added up to a one-point victory, the same as when Cork beat Limerick at the same venue a week earlier, with Hayes grabbing an injury-time winner.
It would be dangerous to read too much into January results, but at the same time it was understandable that Ryan was pleased with how the team refused to accept defeat.
“That's what we're looking to see,” he said.
“We're looking to find fellas with the right character and the right attitude who can play with Cork. We saw that today. Was everything perfect? No, it wasn't.
“I think Liam Cahill will go away very happy with the way his lads performed. I suppose he'll be disappointed with the last bit, that we were able to get back at them.
Beyond the ever-present O’Donoghue and Downey, Cork used another 32 players across the three matches. While giving players game-time was the key principle, it’s interesting to note that Tommy O’Connell – who started all three games – was on the field for a total of 180 minutes while Brian Roche, central to last week’s fightback, logged 158.
It’s too much to say that the players with the most minutes will be involved in the Allianz Hurling League opener against Limerick at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday week, especially as Damien Cahalane played only against Tipp after missing the first two games as he recovered from injury while Tim O’Mahony wasn’t available at all. In addition, Fitzgibbon Cup commitments for a number of players limited their involvement.
A total of 17 players scored across the three matches, with Conor Lehane out in front on 0-16 despite only playing the last 11 minutes against Tipp. O’Connor’s 1-1 in just 18 minutes made him the most efficient – perhaps the number 6 jersey will become a lucky charm for the Sarsfields man – while Hayes, Declan Dalton and Shane Barrett were the other players to find the net.
Of the players whose tallies only came from play, i.e. excluding Lehane, Patrick Horgan, Dalton and Patrick Collins, the highest was Cormac Beausang with 0-5. He is one of those who has shown he is worth another look but he and everybody else will be all too aware that the stakes will be raised again in the national league.
Seán O’Donoghue, Robert Downey both 210,
Tommy O’Connell 180,
Brian Roche 158 (0-3),
Declan Dalton 153 (1-7, 1-0 penalty, 0-2 f),
Luke Meade 151 (0-1),
Niall O’Leary, Patrick Collins (0-2 f), Cathal Cormack 140,
Conor Lehane 133 (0-16, 0-7f, 0-1 65),
Cormac Beausang (0-5), Ciarán Joyce both 105,
Shane Barrett 96 (1-4, 0-1 f),
Brian Hayes 92 (1-1),
Patrick Horgan 88 (1-6, 0-6 f),
Conor Cahalane 87 (0-1),
Brian O’Sullivan 84 (0-2),
Sam Quirke 72,
Colin Walsh 71 (0-1),
Ger Collins, Eoin Roche, Alan Cadogan (0-4), Conor O’Callaghan, Seán O’Leary Hayes, Cormac O’Brien, Damien Cahalane all 70,
Robbie O’Flynn 59 (0-1),
Seán Twomey 52 (0-1),
Shane Kingston 37 (0-6, 0-5 f),
Mark Keane, Ethan Twomey both 35,
Jack O’Connor 18 (1-1),
Eoin Downey 6,
Ben Cunningham 3.