EVERY journey has to have a starting point and for the Cork hurlers it was the Mardyke last Friday night.
UCC provided the opposition for the Canon O’Brien Cup, the trophy to remember the vast contribution the late and great cleric made to the game in the county and far beyond.
For the month of January, the weather was as good as it gets and the atmosphere at the old venue off the Western Road bubbled away nicely.
For the older generation, the Dyke holds special memories of fierce clashes between the big three city clubs and question any players of that era and they will tell you that it was a venue that brought the best out of them.
While Páirc Uí Chaoimh was being constructed in 1974 and 1975 the county finals were played there that featured the Barrs and the Rockies in 1974 and the Rockies and the Glen in ‘75 and it fitted the bill perfectly at that time.
The old Eucharistic Cup games brought in huge crowds on a Sunday night after the procession and back then there was a championship ferocity to those occasions.
The sod was always in the best of condition and it was too last Friday night when Cork’s 2022 journey began.
For UCC, it was ideal preparation for the forthcoming Fitzgibbon Cup. There was a big audience and the fare on offer was enjoyable even if it did fizzle out a small bit as the game aged.
The results of these types of games are of no great relevance but the team that comes out on top will be hoping that it is the start of a successful season. As it turned out, Cork came out on top by a couple of points and there were a few talking points afterwards to mull over.
The main focus of interest from a Cork viewpoint was the inclusion of Ballygiblin’s Mark Keane in the half-forward line and the Cork management will be hoping that he can offer something with his ball-winning ability and physical presence.
It’s far too early to be talking about him as a championship starter given his lack of hurling at that level but a lot of work will be done with him once Ballygiblin’s All-Ireland junior campaign comes to a conclusion and, hopefully, that will be a successful one.
The return to the set-up of Midleton’s Conor Lehane was of much interest too after his omission last season and that has to be welcomed. His form had dipped at inter-county level but a player of his ability was always going to bounce back which, of course, he did with Midleton in their county-winning campaign.
He delivered a brace of fine points against the Students and if he hits the form that everybody knows that he is capable of he will be a huge addition again to the Cork plan.
Darragh Fitzgibbon took his goal very well while some nice white flags were raised by a number of players.
Outstanding prospect, Ciaran Joyce from Castlemartyr made his senior debut and did nothing at all wrong. He is almost certainly going to be a major part of the operation going forward.
A number of players featured on the UCC starting team and Midleton’s Tommy O’Connell, who had a splendid innings for Midleton in their title win, showed up very well at times at centre-back and he’s another player to keep a very close eye on.
Simon Kennefick was in the right place to capitalise on a Cork defensive error and he finished his goal well.
One player that really showed up was Limerick player William Henn from Na Piarsaigh and after being off target with his first free, he could do no wrong thereafter rifling over some superb points from open play and the placed ball.
Cork are not competing in the Munster pre-season league so these challenge encounters are that bit more relevant for the management as they intensify their search for players that they believe might have something to offer in the long term.
With the NHL league beginning in less than three weeks, it’s likely that Kieran Kingston will arrange a game or two with a county team that will not be in their group in that competition.
He and his selectors will want to look in more detail at some of the new members of the squad, the younger ones, in particular, who formed part of the two very successful All-Ireland under-20 teams.
But patience too has to be required too and how different the story may well be when the cut and thrust of Munster championship hurling starts up and when Limerick come out of the opposite corner.
That’s still a bit down the line and a positive national league is the main requirement, starting with the opening game against Clare.
The Fitzgibbon Cup will be monitored closely too by the management and a lot will be learned from that in relation to the players who are going to be under the radar.
A start has been made and any trip up the Dyke is always an enjoyable one and last Friday night was certainly that.