A YEAR ago, the prospects for Cork hurling didn’t appear too bright.
Eliminated from the All-Ireland championship by Wexford in early July, the Rebels were rated as fifth of the five Munster counties, but an influx of new players like Newcestown’s Luke Meade, Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Shane Kingston gave Cork a new impetus.
With the Munster championship won, it has given new coach John Meyler a platform upon which to build, but also a different set of objectives to a year ago, when he was a selector under predecessor Kieran Kingston.
‘Last year, we were coming from 2016, where the results weren’t great and Kieran put in the young fellas and it was really beneficial,’ he says.
‘We’re trying to mind those players that came in last year and then use the Munster Hurling League to bring in a few new players.’
‘We said we’d use the three matches against Limerick, Clare and Kerry to try to find players. We looked at players in those games to see if they could stand up to the Munster Hurling League, and if they could then they could possibly step up to the national league and then to the Munster championship in May.
‘It was beneficial for the likes of Tim O’Mahony, Darren Browne, Robbie O’Flynn and Jack O’Connor, they did really well for us. They’ll get game-time now in the national league, so it has been useful for us.’
The ‘real’ action begins in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday, when Kilkenny visit for the opening game of the Allianz HL Division 1A. Meyler is in the happy position of being able to choose from almost a full squad.
‘Colm Spillane and Mark Ellis are back in full training, which is a huge boost for us,’ he says.
‘We have a few niggles and bumps and we’re monitoring the Fitzgibbon Cup games but we should have a clean bill of health.
‘Stephen Murphy and Eoghan Finn are carrying injuries too, that’s the way it is at present.’
While Meyler will be naming a panel for the league, he’s keen to ensure that the door isn’t shut on anybody.
‘We’ll be operating from a set panel,’ he says, ‘but the county senior hurling league will be starting and we’ll be monitoring those.
‘If someone does well, we’d bring them into the training panel, have a look at them and see how things go and that’s the way it should be.’
Given the drastic changes to the Munster hurling championship, it means a change in approach for the teams involved.
‘It’s hugely different,’ Meyler says.
‘Last year, during the Munster championship, we had four weeks of a break between Tipperary and Waterford, this year we don’t have anything like that, we only have a one-week break in the middle of four games.
‘There’s a different emphasis on training and recovery and all of those issues. It’s really going to be critical this year, where the workload has to be put in.’
That doesn’t mean that the leg can be taken lightly, though.
‘You take every game seriously,’ he says.
‘To start off the league here against Kilkenny on Saturday night is huge for us. Against them, you have to put your best foot out, whether it’s tiddlywinks or whatever, and that’s what we’ll do.’