The Cork team for tomorrow’s Munster SHL second round clash away to Clare (Cusack Park, 2pm) shows seven changes from the side defeated by Limerick last weekend.
In comes goalkeeper Anthony Nash, defenders Conor O’Sullivan and Rickard Cahalane, Luke Meade and Darragh Fitzgibbon at midfield, and Evan Sheehan and Shane Kingston in the full-forward line. Making way are Patrick Collins, Sean O’Donoghue, Darren Browne, Stephen Murphy, Robbie O’Flynn, Jack O’Connor and Dean Brosnan.
The inclusion of Sheehan is an interesting one, given it was just four months ago when we were looking at the Na Piarsaigh forward in the All-Ireland minor final. Moreover, Sheehan was not included in the starting side for his club’s Cork SHC semi-final against Blackrock a month later - albeit he did finish as their top-scorer when notching 2-1 after his half-time introduction.
No more than Jack O’Connor last Saturday week in Mallow - the Sars U21 enjoyed a “super” first outing with the Cork seniors, notching 1-2 from left corner-forward - management are obviously keen to find out what the Na Piarsaigh teenager might offer.
Cork won this competition a year ago, but far more pertinent was that they used it as a vehicle to road-test the capabilities of Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Luke Meade and Shane Kingston. We don’t go along with the consensus that this quartet were unearthed during last year’s pre-season competition. Two of them had played championship the summer previous and management clearly had them in their plans for 2018 before a sliotar was ever struck in earnest - Coleman, Fitzgibbon and Kingston started their Munster SHL opener against Kerry in 2017, with Meade introduced as a half-time sub.
What’s fair to say is the young quartet took the chance presented to them. Meade started all but one of their five Munster SHL outings, with Coleman, Kingston and Fitzgibbon starting three. There was plenty more last year who were afforded game-time in January but were not among the 28 players to subsequently see action when the league swung around. The task for them is to make an impression that will carry them into February, March and beyond.
Tim O’Mahony, for example, saw 18 minutes of game-time during the 2017 edition of the Munster SHL, coming on as a sub for Paul Haughney at the end of Cork’s fifth-round win away to Clare. The Newtownshandrum man got the full 70 against Limerick and has been again named at centre-back.
Conor O’Sullivan started that game against Clare 12 months ago, his one and only start for the Cork hurlers last year. He was introduced as an injury-time sub for the now departed Stephen McDonnell during the final win over Limerick four days later. He did not feature again for the remainder of the year. He too is out to make an impression tomorrow in Ennis.
Can Brian Lawton, off the back of his county championship winning run with Imokilly, reassert himself on the inter-county scene after being most peripheral in 2017. Lawton saw two minutes in the championship (sprung as a late sub in the Munster semi-final victory over Waterford) and appeared in only two of Cork’s six league fixtures (both times coming in as a replacement).
O’Mahony, O’Sullivan and Lawton are just three in a crowded pack seeking to stand out from the crowd this January while a plethora of first-team regulars are kept busy on the training field.
Clare, too, are looking for a plentiful harvest this month. Diarmuid Ryan (still a secondary school student), Rory Hayes, Gary Cooney and Colin Guilfoyle were some of the fresh faces trialled during last weekend’s comfortable triumph over Kerry.
Their first positive of 2018 was David McInerney playing the full 70 against Kerry last weekend at LIT. Injury kept him out of last summer’s All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Tipperary, with the Tulla defender informing reporters after the win over Kerry that he’s “flying it now” and “there’ll be no fear of me this year injury-wise, hopefully”.