PM O'Sullivan: Jack ‘The Barracuda’ O’Connor helps Cork hurling's rising tide overcome choppy waters

Not for fading, these Cork Rebels, not the boys of 2021
PM O'Sullivan: Jack ‘The Barracuda’ O’Connor helps Cork hurling's rising tide overcome choppy waters

Cork's Jack O'Connor grapples with Jake Malone of Dublin for the sliotar. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

A red wave looks like becoming a red tide.

Cork’s hurlers seem rightly on the up. Senior victory over Dublin by eight points not just delivered a last-four place but likewise franked serious success by rising talents. Cork stand as 2020 U20 All-Ireland champions and 2021 U20 Munster champions. The county’s Minors face a Munster final with Waterford on August 9. Things are swell, in all sorts of senses.

Kieran Kingston sits nicely as senior management face into next weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final with Kilkenny. They will learn from some choppy water in this evening’s last quarter against Dublin. Anyone can float in good going. Nothing substantial gets learned in a calm glitter.

Absorb the scenario. Jack O’Connor’s point in the 49th minute, capitalizing on a Cian O’Callaghan error, granted Cork a nine-point lead, 2-20 to 0-17. His team were rippling home, serene, simply more skilful all over the field than these opponents.

16 minutes later, Danny Sutcliffe slotted in fine style for 2-22 to 0-24. That handsome gap had perished to four points, courtesy of a spell when Dublin outstripped the leaders by 0-7 to 0-2.

Bells started to ding. Here we were, back in the territory where Cork hopes floundered during the last three seasons. The commonality between 2018’s defeat to Limerick, 2019’s defeat to Kilkenny, and 2020’s defeat to Tipperary? Nigh inexplicable fadeout when stakes were highest and advantageous position held.

Mental fortitude delivered energy, fuelling fresh momentum. A minute later, the indefatigable O’Connor won a free, whipped over by Patrick Horgan with trademark bitter elegance. Tim O’Mahony fetched the resultant puckout in heroic style and was fouled.

A harpoon is only lethal if there are men aboard good at tying a rope to it. Any proper hurling team needs both hawser and gossamer, doughtiness and skill.

Niall O’Leary, doughtiness personified, got forward from corner-back in added time and pointed. Alan Connolly and another Horgan conversion caulked the deal. Not for fading, these Rebels, not the boys of 2021.

Soon now, Jack O’Connor will be nicknamed ‘The Barracuda’. How else? The Sarsfields clubman turns out deceptively slim, operates ferocious, and moves at the speed of hunger.

Shortly now, he will be nominated the most feared young attacker in the country. His tally of 0-3 from play but tickles the surface of his contribution. O’Connor has teeth.

One of his most likeable characteristics? That willingness to take the belt typically received by a forward, intent on goal, as he tries to cut inside a defender. Talented forwards were dropped from Cork’s senior panel in recent years because they would not take that belt.

Instead, those figures would turn back outside, letting off a shot over their shoulder. There are a lot of hidden bruises involved in the sort of goals O’Connor strives to score.

You would wonder at times whether Cork can afford to field three ciotóg flyers in their front six. O’Connor is nailed on but Conor Cahalane and Shane Kingston made their own statements. The former is more graft than craft but always honest and available. The latter was all but anonymous in the first half until a Robbie O’Flynn foray in added time left the sliotar bobbling in front of goal.

Kingston emphasized his own predation skills via a neat groundstroke. Do not underestimate such moments. Had Séamus Callanan netted a similar opportunity earlier in the day, Tipperary rather than Waterford might well have made the last four.

When was the last time Cork’s senior team started six ciotógs? Nice quiz question as pubs reopen.

Within this cohort, Luke Meade continued an upsurge at midfield. Patrick Collins keeps growing into a replacement for Anthony Nash. Ger Millerick, calm and clever, might be finding feet as headline man marker at the back.

There came enjoyable nuance to his joust with Danny Sutcliffe. Many wing-forwards like to have their catching hand towards the sideline. This factor is why we saw Kilkenny’s TJ Reid, a left-hander, far more at 12 than at 10. That his catching hand rose so far from a righthanded wing back’s hurl offered significant advantage.

Sutcliffe is righthanded and so is that bit more vulnerable, when operating from 12, to a lefthanded wing-back. Against Millerick, he took to fetching puckouts with his right hand but lost time, by having to switch grip, when in possession. Dublin’s management missed a trick by not keeping Sutcliffe at 10 for puckouts.

Cork are buoyant. Part of their inheritance, 16 barren seasons or no 16 barren seasons, remains an ability to hurl as favourites. This evening now holds as case in point.

Something is different. Wave or tide?

Cork are about to find out in the ocean of Croke Park, Kilkenny the weather.

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