Since making his championship debut for Cork in 2011 in his first year out of minor, there has been a wave of expectation on Conor Lehane to deliver on his billing as one of the hottest prospects in hurling. Yesterday he did that.
The Midleton man came of age in the epic Munster championship encounter with Tipperary in Thurles on Sunday, notching ten points for himself on his way to collecting the Man Of The Match award.
Handed the free taking duty in place of usual taker, Patrick Horgan, Lehane stepped up to the plate in spectacular fashion. The extra responsibility did not faze him, rather it spurred him on to display his full array of talents. Five points from placed balls to go with his five points from play doesn’t tell the full story of Lehane’s outstanding performance.
The 24-year-old has been tipped to shine at the highest level since emerging as an underage star in Cork and has shown glimpses of something special since breaking on to the scene. But that has been the problem. If there was one criticism of Lehane to point out, it would be that he has only produced the goods he is capable of in spurts, rather than consistently grabbing games by the scruff of the neck, which he is clearly able to do.
Cork need leaders and in Lehane they have one. Dressing room demeanour and hearty, inspiring speeches aside, Lehane leads by example, letting his hurling do the talking.
He made his championship debut in 2011 against Galway, registering a point, but it was in 2012 when he made his mark, bursting on to the scene in the national league as a 20-year-old with some mesmerising performances. From then on it seemed as if the Rebels had unearthed a talent capable of going on to dominate championship after championship. However, this was not to be the case. The East Cork has native often flattered to deceive, displaying his unquestionable quality in flashes instead of dictating the outcome of matches.
In 2013, Lehane scored 2-10 in the Cork County Senior Hurling Championship final as Midleton defeated Sarsfields, and we can not forget the cracking goal he produced in the All Ireland final of that year for Cork.
Yesterday could prove to be a watershed moment for the skilled stickman. Having continuously given followers of Midleton reason to cheer for many years now, Cork supporters will say it is about time he stepped up to the plate and delivered a magical 70-minute display, rather than a patchy display of brilliance. Given the nature of yesterday’s win, they will also say it was worth the wait.
Lehane looks set to lead the Rebels from the front this year, something they have been crying out for over the last few years. If yesterday’s showing is anything to go by, Kieran Kingston’s side are in safe hands. Lehane dragged Cork across the line in the final 20 minutes, leading by example as Tipp attempted to reel the Leesiders in.
Going forward, Kingston’s charges will take on Waterford in the Munster semi-final and with Lehane in this vein of form, they will have no fear of the Déise. Flanked by the youthful Shane Kingston and Luke Meade, as well as the ever present Alan Cadogan and Patrick Horgan, Cork have a forward line more than capable of destroying any defence in the country, as demonstrated yesterday.
Check out the reaction to the lethal Lehane’s epic display yesterday, as he really established himself as a star on the big stage with a Semple Stadium master class:
— Sean Kelly MEP (@SeanKellyMEP) May 21, 2017
— Ryan Clarke (@theryanclarke6) May 21, 2017
Ronan Maher will have nightmares about Conor Lehane tonight !!
— Cranky Hurler (@CrankyHurler) May 21, 2017
In 2013 I watched Conor Lehane get 2-10 for Midleton in county final. One of the great individual performances. He was even better today.
— Barry Dunne (@darrybunne) May 21, 2017
Conor Lehane lorded that game for cork.
— Luke O' Connor (@LukeOConnor5) May 21, 2017
Conor Lehane with an absolute tantilizing display??
— Alan O Donoghue (@AlanThe4000th) May 21, 2017
Man of the Match Conor Lehane "A joy to watch" says Jackie Tyrrell pic.twitter.com/UniE2SdbRj
— RTÉ GAA (@RTEgaa) May 21, 2017