John Horgan on hurling: Pat Ryan has no shortage of options now when it comes to championship

It's three wins on the bounce in the league for the Rebels, despite the absence of a host of big names due to injury
John Horgan on hurling: Pat Ryan has no shortage of options now when it comes to championship

Eoin Downey and Tommy O'Connell collide as they hunt the sliotar. Both young players are in pole position to start at the end of April. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

THE anticipated outcome came to pass at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Sunday as Cork bagged another brace of NHL points, points that puts them in a very advantageous position to make it through to the knockout stage.

However, the victory over Westmeath was nothing to write home about, it was very much a case of getting the job done, no more than that. Despite Cork being without over half the team that is likely to feature in the championship, you would have still got fairly long odds on Westmeath finishing on the same points tally as the home team, both sides splitting the posts 21 times each.

You would have got long odds too on a Westmeath player being the standout individual of the 30 that started. That player was the man wearing the number 11 shirt, Killian Doyle who had 13 points to his credit before he departed prematurely in the second half with an injury.

Before the ball was thrown in there was always a sense of the inevitable that there was only going to be one outcome.

Westmeath are giving it their best shot in this division, putting up some fine scores, a couple of individuals making a positive impression but they are a good distance off being a serious threat to any of their opponents.

From a Cork viewpoint, this league campaign is very much about players putting up their hands with regard to inclusion in the championship squad further up the line.

Ben Cunningham made his Cork league debut against Westmeath. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Ben Cunningham made his Cork league debut against Westmeath. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Opportunity knocks time for quite a number of players and, to be fair, team boss Pat Ryan is opening the door for them However, the likelihood is that when the championship comes around the bulk of last season's team will still be on the starting block. That's not saying that there won't be changes but time is moving on for those who want to force the manager's hand.

Declan Dalton certainly did that against Galway up in Salthill, Brian Roche has put in a few good shifts, so too Eoin Downey and there has been some positivity from others as well.

Against Westmeath, Tommy O'Connell hit a good bit of ball, Ethan Twomey came more into the game as it progressed, hit a few handy points too and set up Shane Kingston for the opening goal. Conor Cahalane rifled over some good scores while Kingston's experience was always in evidence.

Shane Barrett took his goal with aplomb but overall there might have been an expectation that the team on duty would have been better as a unit.

A lot of frees were conceded, some a bit cheap and Doyle punished those indiscretions.

Padraig Power looked sharp after his introduction, secured a few points and might have had a goal.

In these types of games you are always expected to win with a good bit to spare, it's a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't.

They are games about taking whatever is on offer and moving on to the next assignment which will be against Wexford next Sunday week.

In that game, Cork will be facing a team that recieved the mother and father of a drubbing from Clare last Sunday, one of their worst days for a long time. How they will react to that near humiliation will be very interesting.

Clare, who had been desperately poor against Limerick in their previous encounter, reacted in the manner with which Brian Lohan would have demanded but few if any expected what transpired in Wexford Park.

Cork, of course, remain unbeaten in the season to date, winning the Munster League and taking full points from their three league outings. At this early juncture you cannot ask for much more than that and being without so many key players who will be central figures in the championship.

Luke Meade of Cork is tackled by Shane Calvin of Westmeath. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Luke Meade of Cork is tackled by Shane Calvin of Westmeath. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Ryan has experimented quite a bit, he and his selectors have had to and no doubt, they are assessing things as they go along.

They might have wanted a bit more from a number of players against Westmeath but to repeat, these games are a no-win situation.

But, at the same time, it's up to the players wearing the jersey to show that they might have something to offer as the season will move into overdrive.

But we move on, it's so far, so good as far as results are concerned and the time to make the big decisions where the management is coming that bit nearer.

NAIL DOWN

Cork will certainly be expected to nail down a semi-final spot when they take on Wexford, another home game in front of another big following.

Where the injured players are concerned, I am sure that Pat Ryan will want to get some game time into them before the start of the championship if that is possible.

Things don't get any easier for Westmeath in their final two group games, taking on Limerick and Galway in those assignments. Apart from their opening game against Clare, they are certainly battling bravely and not getting the type of beatings that they once took.

A couple of years ago, Cork put up 40 points against them. But at the end of the day, they are probably as far away as ever from being competitive against the leading counties and defeat after defeat cannot be great for morale.

They displayed plenty of endeavour last Sunday and certainly deserve credit for that.

The current league structure certainly militates against them as it does for the likes of Laois who posted 1-18 against Kilkenny but conceded 34 points.

Antrim did a bit better in Dungarvan, losing to Waterford by only seven points but one has to ask, what are those counties getting out of the league as far as bettering their prospects are concerned?

There is great work going on in all those counties, great hurling people involved too but the divide is still great between them and the rest.

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