‘The question is, do you start with your best 15 or do you finish with your best 15?

April 29th, 2023 6:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

Cork hurler Niall O’Leary at the launch of the Munster GAA Championship at Páirc Ui Chaoimh. (Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile)

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WHILE this is the Cork senior hurling management’s first year in charge, they already banked important experience in terms of winning together.

Manager Pat Ryan and selectors Donal O’Mahony, Wayne Sherlock, Brendan Coleman and Fergal Condon were in charge as the county won the delayed All-Ireland U20 title in July 2021 and then followed that six weeks later with the 2021 title.

In addition, Ryan served as coach to the Cork senior team during Kieran Kingston’s first stint in charge while O’Mahony was a selector under John Meyler, so the latter appreciates how much of a step up it is from U20.

‘It’s massively different,’ O’Mahony says.

‘Pat and I had the advantage of being there in 2016 and ’17, and I was with John in 2018 and ’19, so I had a small bit of an experience of what it is like.

‘But for the lads, it is just the commitment. It is morning, noon, and night between the training sessions, video analysis, the meetings, the selection meetings; it is a very heavy workload but it is very satisfying. It is a massive step up, there is no comparison between the two. Our 2020 reign was skewed as well because there was Covid, so there was no real championship build-up either.’


Cork begin their Munster SHC campaign at home to Waterford on Sunday at 4pm. The Allianz Hurling League went fairly well for the Rebels, with four wins and a draw before their semi-final defeat to Kilkenny.

Certainly, O’Mahony feels that there are a lot of positives to take.

‘We were very happy with the league,’ he says.

‘There are enough people to be negative so we try to be positive. We had two metrics for the league – one was to build depth in the squad, which I think is always a constructive criticism of Cork, and the second one then was to test these fellas' character.

‘We had a lot of young fellas coming in. In the white heat of the championship, which we are going to face now, can these fellas stand up to it?

‘We got good tests. Limerick, the first night, we were six points down to the All-Ireland champions and we came back and got a result out of it. Salthill is never an easy place to go for a Cork team. Even the Wexford game, another metric was that I think we played poorly and still pulled a result out of it. We passed those tests of character.

‘Even the negative of the Kilkenny game, you are obviously disappointed when you lose a game of hurling, but that game could have gone away from us. We were away from home, seven or eight points down, and then Eoin [Downey]was sent off.

‘The game could have gone away from us, but we brought them back to three and within touching distance. So again, from a character point of view, there were positives to be taken out of that.

‘If you go into a league final, you are compared to last year’s team. This year then, we had five weeks of a run into the championship. We feel, to be honest with you, that it is a benefit to have those five weeks to get the injuries sorted and have the house in order for the championship.’

In terms of squad building, the league was a help – but is there a balance between that and finding your best 15?

‘I’d probably expand that to knowing what your best 24 is,’ O’Mahony says.

‘The question is, do you start with your best 15 or do you finish with your best 15? My first year involved, Limerick beat us coming down the stretch. They were six down with eight to go and they brought on real quality from the bench.

‘We are looking at that, as well, that we want to have real quality from the bench and I think we proved that in the league. We started slowly, but we finished strongly, particularly the Wexford game. Rob Downey came on that day, Séamus Harnedy too. They added significant value when they came on.

‘We are not solely focused on the first 15. We are looking on the fellas we can bring off the bench that can add real value to the team. We felt we did that in the league. We found fellas, whether they started or came on, can add real value.’

To that end, the identity of the opposition is also a factor that comes into consideration.

‘Different teams play different styles and have different strengths and weaknesses,’ O’Mahony says.

‘As a management, you are trying to go after their weaknesses and combat their strengths, so there is an element of that.

‘The intensity of Munster championship games, we have Waterford on Sunday and then the Tipp the following Saturday, a quick turnaround, so you have to manage that as well.

‘It is having a squad that if a fella starts against Waterford and gets an injury, that we are confident of the fellas who will replace him the following week and that they will be able to deliver value as well for us.’

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