Cork hurlers made a statement of intent in comfortably disposing of the Clare last Sunday. Sean Cremin discusses their potential and why they should be looked upon as real contenders to lift the Liam McCarthy cup come September.
2013 saw the Cork senior hurling team shock an awful lot of people. They reached the All-Ireland hurling final in a whirlwind season. They had been relegated from the league and were written off by many. Some gave them very little credit for last year’s campaign as a lot of people described last year as a ‘soft’ All-Ireland. Cork were not seen as real All-Ireland contenders in many people’s eyes for 2014 but they now seem to have people thinking twice.
The clash with Clare was going to be a real benchmark for this Cork side. They had a great run last year but they did seem to be a bit limited. There was not a great deal of strength and depth to their squad and there was a big question as to whether they could significantly improve of their showing last year. There is by no means a conveyor belt of talent coming through the ranks nor has there been any real underage success. But Cork have started to answer this question and look ready to prove more people wrong.
This is a different Cork team and there were five additions to the Cork side that beat Clare last Sunday compared to the side that started last year’s All-Ireland final replay. Damien Cahalane, Mark Ellis, Aidan Walsh, Bill Cooper and Alan Cadogan have all come into the side and made a big difference.
The reality is that Cork in 2014 looks to be a much stronger team than the 2013 side that came up only a fraction short of lifting the Liam McCarthy cup. They are genuine contenders again this year and they are a team that will take beating.
Similar to last season, a lot of the credit must go to Jimmy Barry-Murphy. The Cork manager has shown excellent management again. Last year he disposed of a number of players that totally refreshed the Cork camp and this year he has developed new players.
Donal Óg Cusack, John Gardiner, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, Eoin Cadogan and Niall McCarthy were all dropped from the panel ahead of the 2013 and the results followed. They did a lot of good for Cork hurling but the baggage that accompanied them was too significant. Cork hurling was never going to move on until those players were no longer involved, and Jimmy Barry-Murphy was the man who finally put the foot down.
The Cork panel almost felt like a new panel ahead of the 2013 season. There was the need for players to finally stand up and take responsibility in terms of leadership and certain names are now far more prominent in the Cork side. Anthony Nash and Patrick Horgan are two great examples. They now come across as two real leaders of the Cork team.
The injection of youth has also been a real plus, and the Cork confidence and swagger really seems to be back in full flow. Any Cork team is very difficult to beat if they can build up confidence and belief.
Another point that people failed to realise about Cork was that there were a lot of good hurlers in the county who did not make themselves available for selection. The dual player has been a real bone of contention across GAA circles all over the country but Cork have bucked the trend again this year. Aidan Walsh, Damien Cahalane, Alan Cadogan and Eoin Cadogan are all on both panels this year and some of them have made a huge impact with the small ball this year. They really have improved the Cork hurling team.
Credit must go to both Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Brian Cuthbert for making the whole thing possible. The hurlers are definitely reaping the benefits at the moment as the new faces have really improved the hurling team. Alan Cadogan has been an excellent addition to the side. He is a natural corner-forward and has really improved the attack.
His brother, Eoin, has missed out so far through injury but was introduced as a late sub in the Clare game at the weekend. A year out of the hurling scene appears to have done him very little harm, and he faces a battle to try and make the starting team now that he is back to fitness.
Damien Cahalane has improved with every game. He is a very good hurler and has recovered well from a double hip operation last winter. Aidan Walsh is also improving with every game and could really be the key man if Cork are to go far in the championship. He has all of the attributes to be a top hurler and eclipse what he has done in football. His level of performance has improved in each of his three games. Bill Cooper is also doing well at centre-forward. He looks like he could be a permanent fixture in the number eleven shirt.
Another player who was not available last season was Paudie O’Sullivan. On his day he is a very talented player and a fully fit Paudie O’Sullivan will make the Cork attack a very hard outfit to defend against. The half-back line was a very questionable area last year but two players have really strengthened this area. Mark Ellis has done very well at centre-back. He has patrolled the centre efficiently. Lorcán McLoughlin’s move to wing-back has also been an improvement. There is now a much better foundation to the side and they are a good launchpad for Cork’s attacking play.
The acquisition and addition of new faces has been a huge plus for Cork. There were also four players dropped after the league, which was good management. It made players know that nobody was safe on the panel. Stephen White was Cork’s first sub last year and many expected Killian Murphy to push for a starting position at corner-back but both players are no longer on the panel. Cork have a very competitive panel and now look to be in a good position. They have pushed on from last year, which was always going to be their main challenge.
It is still early days in the season and Cork have not won anything yet but they find themselves nicely primed. They got revenge on Clare for last year’s All-Ireland final defeat. They now have a chance to get one over on Limerick when they face them in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on July 13th. Any form of silverware would be a boost to Cork and what better way to do than by winning a Munster final on their home turf.
The signs are encouraging for Cork. They were favoured by the fact that they had two championship games played compared to Clare not having played, but beating the All-Ireland champions will always fill a team with confidence. Cork are going very well and it will now be case of trying to go one better than last year. The potential seems to be there and other teams and supporters should now take Cork a lot more seriously. They are better than last year and huge credit should be given to all involved.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.