No newcomers so how can Cork hurlers make progress?
Published 18/02/2016 | 02:30
The new hurling season may still be ploughing through treacle-top surfaces but already there's a sense of foreboding among Cork supporters that many of last year's weaknesses have transferred to 2016.
Last season finished with a 12-point defeat by Galway in the All-Ireland hurling quarter-final and this year's Allianz League campaign began with a six-point defeat against the same opposition last Sunday.
Galway's winning margin might have been much higher if they hadn't tailed off in the final quarter after opening up a nine-point lead.
That was to be expected as Galway haven't as much work down as Cork after a managerial upheaval left them without formal supervision until a few days before Christmas when Micheál Donoghue was named as Anthony Cunningham's replacement.
New Cork manager Kieran Kingston had been appointed ten weeks previously, giving him lots of time to prepare for the new season.
Indeed, last Sunday's game was Cork's ninth since early January (four Munster League, four challenge) but after a good start they faded alarmingly for a long time.
Seamus Harnedy's goal helped Cork to a three-point lead after14 minutes but they were outscored by 0-17 to 0-9 over the next 33 minutes. By the end, Cork had been hit for 1-27, just four points less than their leakage rate against Galway last July.
It was a very disappointing start to the League, even if their post-match comments concentrated on the brighter side. "We took a lot of positives out of the game. I was delighted with the way our fellas came back into it," said selector Pat Ryan.
He also remarked that "Galway were that bit sharper", although why that should be the case is mystifying, given their late arrival to formal training.
"Galway won a lot more breaks - it's a learning curve for a lot of our fellas," said Ryan.
It shouldn't have been. The average age of the 20 Corkmen who played last Sunday is 25.4 years so they were scarcely a group of rookies, tangling with All-Ireland runners-up on an away assignment.
Even more worrying for Cork is that there wasn't a single debutant among the 20.
Given what happened last year when Cork were twice beaten by Waterford in the League final and the Munster semi-final and by Galway later on, the 2016 model would have been expected to feature some new components. Instead, they included 16 of the 20 that were hit for 2-28 by Galway last July.
It suggests that while a new management set-up is in place, it will be dealing from much the same playing hand.
And since it was short of aces last year, it's understandable why Cork supporters are pessimistic about the season ahead. Cork's defensive game has been problematical for a long time, with top-line opposition running up very big scores against them.
Galway, who shot 23 wides in the All-Ireland quarter-final, hit them for a total of 3-55 in their last two meetings while Waterford totalled 4-43 against them in the League final and Munster semi-final.
Dublin scored 2-23 (and still lost by a point) against Cork in the League semi-final while Tipperary racked up 2-28 in Round 5 of the League.
It's an unsustainable give-away rate for any team with big-time designs and must be of concern to Kingston and his fellow strategists, especially as last year's virus struck again last Sunday.
The shortage of young talent forcing its way into the senior squad has been a problem for Cork in recent years and, if last Sunday's selection is anything to by, Kingston hasn't spotted any unpolished diamonds he can work on.
Despite Pat Ryan's optimistic comments, the reality is that the defeat by Galway was a significant setback for Cork, not just in terms of dropping two early League points but also as a signal of how they were set up for the new season.
It makes Saturday night's game against Waterford in Páirc Uí Rinn all the more important as a second defeat would put Cork under enormous pressure, with clashes against Dublin, Kilkenny and Tipperary to follow.
It's 18 years since Cork were last crowned Division 1 champions, their longest wait in the 90-year history of the League and already they have drifted out to 20/1 for this year's title. Ominously, they are now second favourites behind Dublin to be relegated to 1B for next season.