Pat Hartnett doesn’t see any notable shift in mindset or culture as being the root cause of Cork hurling’s latest coming. The players, he insists, are simply doing themselves justice.
The Cork selector, just so we’re clear, does not say that they didn’t do themselves justice in recent campaigns, but to borrow a favourite line of Hartnett’s, ‘we’re as good as our record says we are’. Their record, up until the 2-27 to 1-26 win over Tipperary on May 21, that their first in the Munster championship since 2014, was in no way flattering.
How many players who shone that afternoon in Thurles delivered a performance of even close to mediocre against the same opposition 12 months previous? Bill Cooper — remember his hit on Kevin Moran in the Munster semi-final — was one of four of the more senior players to be called ashore during last July’s qualifier exit at the hands of Wexford. Seamus Harnedy, along with Christopher Joyce and Stephen McDonnell, was part of that withdrawn quartet. Such has been his scintillating form of late, it’s rather unthinkable, injury aside, that a situation would arise where Harnedy is shown the curly finger.
Further back, Damien Cahalane and Mark Ellis were part of a half-back line torched by Johnny Glynn and Conor Whelan during the 2015 All-Ireland quarter-final. And no-one should need telling as to how effective this pair have been as the central pillars in the Rebel rearguard this summer.
“They’re doing justice now to the way they have trained,” Hartnett asserts.
“They’re in super condition through Declan O’Sullivan and they’ve been well coached by Pat Ryan, who deserves an awful lot of credit. The young lads have been good, but the senior players have been outstanding. They’ve really led the way. If you take even the three forwards; Pat Horgan has been in scintillating form, Seamus Harnedy is on fire, and Conor Lehane has been phenomenal really. And Alan Cadogan has been working hard and doing fierce runs for us.
“It’s amazing what can be achieved if fellas don’t mind who gets the credit, that’s the philosophy. It doesn’t matter who gets the tackle in, it doesn’t matter who gets the block, it doesn’t matter who gets the score. You can see their generosity in the way they give the ball to each other. If a fella is in a better position, you read it and you give it. Credit to them for embracing the philosophy that we want with them.”
And credit to them for arresting the slide of recent years. “To react accordingly when you’re marking players who you’ve played against in previous years, it’s been positive. We’re improving. That’s not an understatement. They are young too, though. Our average age is 24. If you’re good enough, though, you’re old enough. They seem to be coming up to the mark at the moment, anyway.”
Hartnett, a minor selector two years ago when Cork fell to Limerick in the Munster semi-final after beating them in the earlier rounds, is probably least surprised at how quickly Mark Coleman (19), Luke Meade (20), Darragh Fitzgibbon (19) and Shane Kingston (19) have transitioned onto the senior team.
“We hit 17 wides during that Munster semi-final against Limerick. We were without Shane Kingston who had broken his leg. You had David Griffin, Chris O’Leary and Robbie O’Flynn there, as well as Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman and Shane. They were all on that. Then obviously Kieran, because his son was captain of the minor team, would have been watching them quite closely. Pat Ryan trained them at U14 and U15 so there’s been a continuity in it.
“For sure there is a gulf between minor and senior. But so far, so good.”
On the challenge of Clare, Hartnett is wary.
“We played them behind closed doors about eight weeks ago and they were to behold. They’ve sublime pace.
“Look at their pedigree. If you get five A1s in your Leaving, you’ve got five A1s in your Leaving. If you have four All-Ireland U21s, you have four All-Ireland U21s. If you have a senior All-Ireland too, you have those, you earned them. We don’t and that’s where we’re coming from.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved