BY JOHNNY CAROLAN
USUALLY, Cork’s exit from the senior hurling championship follows a set pattern.
There is a ‘Where are we going at all?’ feel to the reaction, allied to some ochóning about the style of play and the lack of quality coming through. The fabled ‘root and branch review’ is what’s needed to get Cork back to where it belongs.
Such a drastic view always ignores the fact that such a deep overhaul would take time to take effect, but these times of crisis are never met with rational analysis.
This time, however, there appears to be a refreshing change. Obviously, nobody in Cork is happy to have exited the championship before the end of May – though such a time-based definition lacks context given the change in the inter-county calendar – but most are willing to look at the big picture.
When Ethan Twomey came on for the last 11 minutes against Limerick on Sunday, he became the 25th player used by Cork in the Munster SHC, with 21 different starters.
Of those 25, nine of them – Twomey, Eoin Downey, Ciarán Joyce, Tommy O’Connell, Brian Roche, Pádraig Power, Shane Barrett, Brian Hayes and Cormac O’Brien – started one of both of the 2020 and 2021 All-Ireland U20 finals under the current senior management.
But for injury, there’s a good chance that two more U20 winners, Alan Connolly and Dáire O’Leary, would have featured while Seán Twomey was on the bench and unlucky to receive game-time.
This was the first season in charge for Pat Ryan and his management team and Cork lost three matches – away to Kilkenny in the Allianz Hurling League semi-final and by a single point to Clare and Limerick, the counties that contested last year’s Munster final and will again do battle in this year’s.
While Ryan didn’t want to cushion the disappointment of the Limerick result in any talk of moral victories, it would be reductive to look at Cork’s exit in black and white terms. Had Cork been able to salvage a draw against Limerick, they would have been in the Munster final with Tipperary out.
Learning to come out on the right side of tight encounters is a skill learned with experience but you can be sure that Cork will make the most of their harsh lessons.
And in terms of a stream of talent coming through – Ben O’Connor’s U20 played Offaly in Sunday’s All-Ireland final in Thurles. Having young players coming on to the panel with a history of success can only bode well and increase the competition for places at senior level.
Obviously, if 2024 doesn’t represent progress for Cork, there will be more recriminations and rightly so. For now, though, the Cork supporters are willing to show faith in the players and the management and there is every chance that they will ultimately be rewarded.
Minutes played across Cork’s four Munster SHC games
280: P Collins, N O’Leary, R Downey (0-3), D Cahalane (0-1), D Fitzgibbon (1-11), P Horgan (2-39, 0-28f, 0-2 65); 278: C Joyce; 264: S Harnedy (0-12); 252: D Dalton (2-9, 0-6f); 237: G Millerick; 234: B Roche (0-3); 199: L Meade (0-2); 182: T O’Connell; 146: C Lehane (0-3); 143: S Barrett (0-1); 140: S O’Donoghue; 130: S Kingston (0-6); 84: T O’Mahony (0-2); 55: R O’Flynn (1-2); 53: C Cahalane (1-0); 48: E Downey; 36: B Hayes (1-0); 27: P Power; 11: E Twomey; 1: C O’Brien.