SINCE passing from the possession of Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, the Cork hurling number 7 shirt has had a few owners, but nobody able to assume permanent residency.
William Egan, Lorcán McLoughlin, Cormac Murphy and Aidan Walsh have all worn it since the 2012 All-Ireland hurling final loss to Galway, Ó hAilpín’s last championship start. From 1996 until the end of 2010, only rare injuries and suspension against Waterford in 2007 prevented Ó hAilpín from lining out at left half-back – the best-forgotten 2002 defeat to Galway being the one other exception, as he wore 5 for the only time.
While he was and is a Na Piarsaigh legend, Ó hAilpín has spent much of his life in Ireland living in Blarney, and it is a Blarney native who now looks to have the Cork 7 jersey claimed for the short, medium and long term. Mark Coleman (pictured) wasn’t born when Ó hAilpín made his Cork championship debut against Limerick in 1996. He won’t be 20 until December 23rd but in just two Munster championship outings against Tipperary and Waterford he has shown an assuredness and a maturity which some players can find elusive for the duration of their careers.
That birthdate is also indicative. In GAA terms, it was a short straw, as he was lagging behind sizewise against players who might have been almost a year older than him. It meant that he was often in the ‘B’ stream when Rebel Óg squads were being selected, but there was still little doubting that he would make it once he grew.
‘Everyone knew he was going to be a Cork minor because he just needed to grow,’ one of his coaches, Ronan Dwane, told Denis Walsh in The Sunday Times last week.
‘His hurling was fantastic but he was tiny – like, tiny.’
In 2014, he wasn’t part of a highly-rated minor squad which exited the Munster championship against Limerick. A year later, another well-regarded Cork side – with All-Ireland and Munster success at U15, U16 and U17 – had Coleman at right half-back as Limerick were beaten in the Munster opener, captain Shane Kingston scoring 1-9.
A flaw in the draw meant that the semi-final was also against the Shannonsiders, this time in the Gaelic Grounds, and Cork lost by 1-14 to 0-14, unable to overcome the early loss of Kingston. Coleman, like so many Cork players since 2008, would exit minor without having played in Croke Park.
There was schools action in which to shine though, and he scored nine points from midfield as Blarney’s Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál won the All-Ireland U18âHC last year, beating CBS Roscommon in the final last spring From there, he progressed to UCC, though his hurling was limited to freshers’ action in the 2016-17 academic year.
Back in February, UCC played CIT in an All-Ireland quarter-final and Coleman and fellow Cork panellists Kingston, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman and Robbie O’Flynn were influential in a narrow win.
The 6pm throw-in time delayed Cork training afterwards. While those players obviously were exempt from training, a member of the Cork backroom team summed things up when chatting to a supporter: ‘You cannot believe the difference those young players have brought to the psyche of this squad.’
Coleman has been to the forefront of that, and one suspects he will be for some time.