The change to the championship format will place new demands on players this summer but Cork forward Conor Lehane is relishing the new competition.
And he points out, they had to beat three of the other four teams in Munster to win the provincial title last season.
Those wins over Tipperary, Waterford and Clare in the final secured a second Munster championship medal for the Midleton sharpshooter and he can’t wait for the summer of action to kick off later next month.
But it’s a measure of how much Cork have turned to youth in recent seasons that Lehane, heading into his eighth championship campaign even though he is only 25, can only point to a couple of players who are there longer than him in the Rebels’ squad.
“You have to have young fellas coming through each season and hopefully we will have a few more this year. It keeps everyone on their toes. The change in the structure this year means that the depth in the squad will be more important than ever when you have matches nearly every week.”
Lehane, speaking at Bandon GAA Grounds in Cork to launch the GAA Super Games Centre in partnership with Sky Sports, said players are supportive of the new championship structure.
“Definitely, everyone wants to play more games and there will be less training. Training is great but you can only train so much. When you look back on the number of matches you play compared to when I was a bit younger ... back then it was just match, match, match.”
Lehane said that their All-Ireland semi-final loss to Waterford has not dominated their thoughts during the winter, but they are keen to build on the progress they made last summer.
“The Waterford game hasn’t been mentioned that much. It was very disappointing but that’s how cruel sport it and how frustrating it can be. Obviously, the few weeks after were very tough, on the sporting side of it. During the winter you bring up what we needed to do so it wouldn’t happen again, and then work on that. It is in the past, so you just take what you can from it to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” added Lehane, who works for AIB at Little Island in Cork.
His first Munster championship medal in 2013 saw them progress to the All-Ireland final, only to go down to Clare in a replay and having not tasted underage success with Cork he would love to go all the way at senior level. And Lehane believes that this is the most open championship he has faced into, with several counties, including Cork, with genuine aspirations of ultimate glory.
“From a crowd point of view, it’s brilliant because you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen. Anybody could do it. Everyone is capable of beating someone else on the day but it’s purely on the day. You look at Kilkenny. People were talking about their decline but you see them in the league final again, there is no stopping them. They are always there. Look at Leinster alone, Galway, Dublin, Wexford, Kilkenny all in contention. In Munster, two from Tipperary, Waterford, Limerick, Clare and us will not progress. It’s crazy, you really have to take it bit by bit, but that’s what’s going to make it a brilliant year. I can’t wait for it to start.”
Cork star Conor Lehane was at the Bandon GAA Grounds, County Cork to launch the GAA Super Games Centre in partnership with Sky Sports. The Super Games Centres, which are based all over the country, were set up to reduce youth drop out and encourage ‘play to stay’ amongst youth, specifically between the ages of 12 and 17 where youth drop out is most prevalent. Sky Sports is supporting the GAA Super Games Centres by arranging visits with Sky Sports mentors and providing kits and equipment to the estimated 9,000 members countrywide. Conor Lehane is pictured with with Zak Sharpless, left, age 13, from St Brogan’s College, Bandon, and Matthew Woods, also m 13, from Hamilton High School, Bandon Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved