Stephen McDonnell out for Cork hurlers but Gary Keegan involved again in 2018

New Cork senior hurling manager John Meyler says the new championship structure means the Rebels won’t start the same 15 in four consecutive games as they did last summer — and he confirmed they must plan without last year’s captain, Glen Rovers’ Stephen McDonnell.
Stephen McDonnell out for Cork hurlers but Gary Keegan involved again in 2018

“Stephen’s not in our plans,” said Meyler yesterday. “He’s taking time out in 2018 so he won’t be available.

“Our aim is to get two players for each position, it always is. With the five league games, possibly league play-offs, the new format for the Munster championship — you’re going to have to have two players for each position.

“But you’re also going to have to trust players who may be injured, who may be tired — playing four Sundays in a row is very difficult. I’ve experience of that with Carlow and Kerry in the round-robin format of the Leinster championship, and I can tell you that by week three of that system fellas are on their knees.

“Next season will be about getting your fitness work done before the league, and then during the national league and championship, it’ll be about recovery. That’ll be critical this year — less training, more recovery in the time between those matches.”

Cork started four U21s in last year’s championship — is there a risk of players that young wearing down as the 2018 season goes on?

“You saw it last year, with the young players who came in. They knew no different and just wanted to play.

“This year there’s a new set-up again, so they’ll go out and play again, but we’ll need to balance that youth with experience. We’ll need know-how, that’ll be far more critical this year than it has been for some time.

“We’ll be training in the Páirc, the 4G pitch included, though we need to be careful with lads who’ve had cruciate injuries, all those things have to be taken into account.

“Last year, for instance, we put out the same 15 in four games. That’s not going to happen in 2018. That’s not me trying to motivate panellists, but it is trusting panellists to be able to play. It’s a panel game this year.

“Then you have the Fitzgibbon — that’s starting in the middle of January, we have eight or 10 with UCC, a couple with CIT, so we have to balance the demands of that with our opening league game against Kilkenny, which is a critical game, the first Cork game in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which brings its own expectations as well as the expectation from last year’s championship.”

Will the Cork style of play last season — one built on speed — be replicated next year?

“Cork hurling has always been about speed,” said Meyler. “Speed of thought, speed of movement, speed of play, transition play. That’s what we need to continue, and to continue the speed Kieran (Kingston) brought in last year. We need to work on that, to improve it and make it more consistent.

“That’s what people saw in Thurles last year, that speed of thought and movement is what got people excited, and that was critical. We’ll be working on that going forward.”

The St Finbarr’s man said the new Cork teams funding initiative was welcome

but added: “You’d welcome any resources that go into any team, but the important thing is to identify the resources you want.

“It’s not about throwing resources or revenue at something, it’s identifying where you want those resources and to allocate them properly, not throwing ten grand at a problem. That’s silly.”

One resource that Cork will call on is high-performance expert Gary Keegan, who had a big impact last season.

“Gary will be involved. He came in to create a culture around the team, a culture of standards and consistent behaviours.

“He talks about the process as distinct from the outcome, and that we need to create that culture as we go on, where everyone knows what the process is and can deliver on that — where everyone knows their role. It’s about creating good habits and standards, and he does that.”

“Creating that culture is vital when new players are feeding into the system,” adds Meyler.

“Last year you had 12 U21s on the senior panel and four of them came in — Mark Coleman, Shane Kingston, Luke Meade, and Darragh Fitzgibbon — to the senior team.

“There were seven or eight behind them, the likes of Billy Hennessy, David Griffin, Chris O’Leary, Robbie O’Flynn, Pat Collins — they’re now in year two and they need to make the jump to get to the level where last year’s four players, and Colm Spillane, got to.

“If we can get them to make the jump, then we’ll be in a very healthy position. We’ve tried to focus on them now, to get them to make that jump.

“But the four U21s who made it last year, they need to get to the next level.

“There are probably a few different levels within the squad. You have a group who’ve been there 10 years or so, who are very experienced, and then you have guys who aren’t there as long as them. You have those U21s from last year who need to step up; and then you have the newcomers to the panel.

“It’s about bringing those players through to the different levels, to step up to that next level.”

They’ll need to, with All-Ireland champions Galway now seen by Meyler as the benchmark.

“I think the playing field is very level — I think Galway have an advantage but that most of the other teams are just a level below them.

“The new system is really going to change the way we look at teams, panels, matches, that you’re really going to have to analyse the game ahead of you, that you’ll have to decide what players to play... there’s going to be more analysis, I think, and it’ll come down to the biggest panel. That’s critical.

“Senior hurling has never seen this, going Sunday-Sunday-Sunday-Sunday. Before you had four weeks off between games, fellas could relax the Monday and Tuesday after a game, but next summer you’ll be back in on the Monday for recovery, same Tuesday, then light training Wednesday.... It’s going to be totally different.”

Is he looking forward to it?

“Oh yeah. I always do.”

The death has occurred of former Cork GAA chairman Derry Gowen.

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