John Horgan on hurling: Cork moving in the right direction even in these early days under Pat Ryan

Rebels have won six games in succession, including their two opening rounds in the league
John Horgan on hurling: Cork moving in the right direction even in these early days under Pat Ryan

Conor O’Callaghan of Cork in action against Kevin Cooney of Galway. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

ANY day the visiting team depart Salthill having secured the victory and bagging the brace of league points on offer has to be regarded as a good one.

Well, Cork did exactly that last Sunday and the early season momentum continues to build for the players under the new management team led by Pat Ryan.

Confidence levels subsequently grow, especially for the new additions to the squad, the supporters are buying into the regime that bit more and competition for places that will form the championship squad is intensifying.

And that is the bottom line where the league is concerned, strengthening the squad to ensure that there are more options in every department.

It's definitely been so far so good for Cork in the current campaign, two wins from two against what is perceived to be the front runners in the race for the MacCarthy Cup later on in the year. Limerick are the obvious favourites to lift that trophy for the fourth year running and Galway are the fancy of many to be their main challengers.

The positives have certainly outweighed the negatives for Cork over the past two weekends and whilst team boss Ryan will continue to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground, he will, at the same time, will be quite satisfied how the early season is working out for him.

Cork manager Pat Ryan must be pleased as his side's progress to date. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Cork manager Pat Ryan must be pleased as his side's progress to date. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

It did get a bit edgy in the closing sequences last Sunday, coughing up a substantial advantage at one stage in the second half to allow Galway back into the equation.

In many ways it was a bit similar to Limerick's victory over Clare on Saturday night, the All-Ireland champions coasting to victory before a late flurry of Clare scores added a lot more respectability to the final scoreline for them.

Patrick Collins' fine penalty save at the death ensured that the winning margin was healthy enough for Cork, just as it was for Limerick against the Banner, five and six points respectively.


There was much that must have pleased the Cork management, the form of Deccie Dalton, in particular, who really put his hand up with a display of real energy that yielded some magnificent scores which, quite rightly, earned him the Man of the Match accolade.

Dalton has now reached a stage in his career when it's time to nail down a starting place for the championship and on the evidence presented on Sunday, he is firmly on the right road. Imagine how high his confidence levels must have been as he boarded the Cork bus for home.

Declan Dalton was Man of the Match in Galway. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Declan Dalton was Man of the Match in Galway. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Against Limerick, Conor Lehane struggled to get into the flow of things, scoring just a point late in the game. However, he delivered the handsome tally of 2-3 against Henry Shefflin's team, the goals very well executed and in the process illustrating that he remains a key figure.

Shane Barrett's quartet of points will do him the world of good and he can certainly be happy with his day out in the west of Ireland. 

Sean Twomey matched Lehane in the goal-scoring chart, firing home on both occasions with plenty of aplomb.

There will be a tinge of disappointment at how Galway were allowed narrow the margin coming into the home straight but that can often be an occurrence in league games at this time of the year, one team running out of steam a bit thus giving their supporters a few palpitations.

The few minutes after half-time were the game-defining, Cork blitzing Galway with a return of 2-3 that had their supporters doing cartwheels in the stand.

This, it has to be said, was a very experimental Cork starting 15, so many players who will be key come championship time being marked absent for various reasons, injuries in nearly all cases. But those who came in did not shy away from the task, all of them showing the attitude that Ryan wants and putting in an honest shift. The Roche brothers did just that among others and that is something that is required, giving the management plenty of food for thought as the season progresses.

How many of the starting 15 last Sunday will be lining up for the national anthem when Waterford come to town for the opening game in the Munster championship? That remains to be seen, maybe not a whole pile, then again maybe more than might have been envisaged before the season began.

Getting an away win over one of the counties that are considered leading championship contenders will boost the confidence all that bit more of those who are auditioning for places further up the line.


Putting 4-22 on the board in the process will add a bit more to the feelgood factor that has to be currently existing within the ranks, six goals in two games.

Cork are now the only unbeaten team in the group and perfectly positioned to be in the top two when that stage of the league concludes.

Different management teams will want different things from the league, the priority of all, of course, will be to have as settled a team as you can for the start of the championship.

We have seen different things from Cork over the past few weeks, both in the league and in the Munster League. They have had to dig deeper in some games, claw back a substantial lead that Tipp enjoyed in the Munster League final to exhibit the character in the squad.

Against Galway last Sunday it was the complete opposite, going 10 or 11 points clear, having that eaten into before going on to close out the game That's what Ryan wants, how players will react in different situations.

It's definitely so far, so good and when you have leaders emerging like Ciarán Joyce at centre-back, building on his debut year in 2022, there has to be reason for cautious optimism.

A positive start never harmed anybody. The long road back from Salthill will have been that bit shorter.

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