Priority is to look at fringe players
Published 27/02/2014 | 05:26
IT would appear as if the top priority for the Cork management is to assess all their options over the course this season's National Hurling League.
With just two games gone, a total of 26 players have already been used, and several of them have yet to taste championship action at the top level.
After the draw with Limerick in Round 1, it was felt that Cork would be under pressure to put out the strongest team available for their remaining four games in Division 1B, aware that score difference might ultimately determine their fate in terms of securing promotion.
For last Saturday night's clash with Laois, however, the Cork line-out had a somewhat experimental look about it, with such as Darren McCarthy, Colm Spillane, Paul Haughney, Michael O'Sullivan and Alan Cadogan all getting their first start in the league.
In addition, Mark Ellis filled an unfamiliar role at midfield on a team showing eight changes in personnel from that which lined out against Limerick.
Admittedly, Conor Lehane was ruled out by injury, and Aidan Walsh was unavailable due to football commitments, but it was still a major turnover of players from one game to the next.
It's a policy likely to be maintained for the rest of the campaign, given that Jimmy Barry-Murphy stated afterwards his intention is to give everyone on the panel a fair crack of the whip, with a view to developing the squad over the next few months.
Along with the injured Conor O'Sullivan, only Eoin Cadogan, who was also tied up with the footballers last weekend, Brian Hartnett and newcomers Eoin Keane of St Finbarr's and Castlemartyr's Brian Lawton have yet to make a league appearance this season, but they will be hoping to get a run as the auditioning process continues in the coming weeks.
From the team that started in last year's All-Ireland final replay against Clare, Anthony Nash, Conor O'Sullivan, Brian Murphy, who has yet to reach a decision in relation to his inter-county future, Daniel Kearney, Cian McCarthy, Luke O'Farrell and Conor Lehane didn't line out against Laois
Kearney was introduced for the second half, as was Stephen Moylan, who featured in the majority of Cork's championship games last year, while McCarthy and rookies Rob O'Shea and young Michael Cahalane were others sprung from the bench before the finish.
It would be a tad fanciful to assume, however, that Cork would have fashioned a more comprehensive win had they fielded a more experienced side.
The fact is that it was virtually impossible to produce quality hurling in the windy conditions prevalent on the night, while it must also be acknowledged that Laois were well organised, with the decision to operate with a sweeper at the back for the full 70 minutes clearly amounting to an exercise in damage limitation on the part of the improving Midlanders.
There were mixed fortunes for the Cork players on trial, with Darren McCarthy certainly measuring up between the sticks, producing three excellent saves to show he is a capable deputy for Anthony Nash.
Mark Ellis was always in the thick of the action at midfield, almost invariably distributing his possession to good effect, and he is sure to be tried there again.
Alan Cadogan built on an encouraging display as a substitute against Limerick, embellishing a lively and industrious performance at corner forward with three well-taken points, while Colm Spillane did little or nothing wrong at corner back.
It didn't go quite so well for Paul Haughney and Micheal O'Sullivan, but, in fairness, it's hard to be critical of any of the newcomers, as it wasn't exactly an ideal night to be presented with an opportunity to lay down a marker.
Cork's seven-point victory suggests their bid for promotion has been severely dented, given that Limerick finished 23 points to the good in their home game against Antrim last Sunday.
To beat Antrim by a similar margin on the road is going to be a tall order for the Rebels, so it's fair to say that Limerick are in pole position to claim the top spot in Division 1B at this juncture.
Maybe current table-toppers Wexford can throw a spanner in the works, and emerge with something from their visit to Shannonside on Sunday week when Cork will be strongly fancied to deliver the goods at home in their Round 3 encounter with struggling Offaly.
Whether or which, it won't be the end of the world should Cork be forced to spend another season in Division 1B, although the management would obviously prefer to get out of it.
The main target for JBM, however, is to run the rule over as many fringe players as possible, and one suspects he will be happy enough heading into the league quarter-finals if he is satisfied competition for places has increased significantly by then.