TO play his big men or not to play his big men, that is the question troubling Cork hurling manager Denis Walsh as he plots his approach to the Allianz League campaign.
The prospect of entering his first full season in charge of the Cork hurlers is clearly an exciting one for the former county dual star.
At yesterday’s launch of the hurling league in Dublin, there was the palpable sense of asking the same tired old questions to the same managers when facing down Brian Cody and Liam Sheedy.
The opportunity to pick Walsh’s brain about his plans for the year as Cork attempt to re-establish themselves as a credible All-Ireland force, however, was both refreshing and rewarding in equal measure.
The St Catherine’s man responded assuredly to one veiled question about potentially having to drop Cork greats like Séan Óg Ó hAilpín and Donal Óg Cusack going forward.
“There won’t be any problems making decisions, sure if they’re not playing well they’re gone. They know that, I’ve told them that a hundred times. So that’s it, it’s absolutely simple, there’s no complication in it.”
He was happy too to accept that it’s his responsibility to ensure there is no lingering hangover from the divisive winter strike of 2009 moving into the new season.
“If it happens and it affects their performance well then that comes back to me, doesn’t it?” he deadpanned.
But the one question he struggled to answer definitively, because he simply doesn’t know the answer yet, is exactly what he’s going to do with his two big target men, Aisake Ó hAilpín and Michael Cussen.
It’s a problem unique to Cork, who now have two full-forwards closer to seven foot than six, both highly mobile and capable of destroying opposing defences if used correctly. But what exactly is the correct way to use them? “I suppose I’ve been thinking about that but that’s it, I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve my ideas on it but until we’re on the pitch and doing it...” he said.
“I mean it’s obvious (what the options are); you either play the two of them inside together, you play one of them at a time, you split them up or, four, you don’t play them at all. They’re the options.
“Genuinely, we haven’t decided. We’ll try to use the league to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s unusual to have two guys who are six foot seven who are mobile.”
Aisake could claim to be the incumbent in the full-forward position though Cussen looked the real deal there for Sarsfields.
“To be fair, he has a very good touch hurling wise and, you know, it strikes me that he possibly is a better hurler than a footballer but we’ll have to wait and see,” said Walsh.
“You need a lot of character in the game and these fellas are going to be a ‘stick out’ for fellas that are on them, whether you have the character then to get into games and so on.”
First up for Cork in the league is a home tie against newly promoted Offaly on Sunday week.
He admits it’s debatable whether previous Cork managers and players invested 100% of themselves into winning the league.
“Realistically there probably was (apathy towards the league from Cork),” he said before spelling out his own intentions.
“Anyone who knows me would know that I take every game seriously. It would never be, ‘We will just get the first two games out of the way’. I am taking it very seriously. It is a question of momentum.
“Back door systems and these things mean nothing to me. Confidence is crucial. Get the performance and get the win. You are where you are then. We will be taking the league very seriously and all my panel and management team know that clearly.”
Aside from the performance and utilisation of Cork’s ‘Twin Towers’ throughout the league, another intriguing development will be the form of Eoin Cadogan at the back.
Like Walsh managed successfully in his playing days, Cadogan will attempt to balance life as both an inter-county senior hurling and footballer.
“He is going to try and do that and it would be wrong for me to try and stop him,” commented Walsh. “That is my stance on it. I don’t know whether he is capable of doing it or not. I personally think he is able to do it — he has the character. It is obvious to anyone who knows anything about the game that he has what it takes.”
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