independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

O'Neill: Cork must look to footballers to revive hurling fortunes

THERE has been an uneasy shift away from the status quo in Cork – dual players are breaking the mould and drifting towards football.

Another one went to rugby, but they all turned away from hurling. It hasn't gone unnoticed down on Leeside. Former dual star Dinny Allen believes the likes of Eoin Cadogan and Damien Cahalane being lured to the football squad is "not a good sign for hurling".

Previously, he believes, there would have been no question of football taking precedence.

Darren Sweetnam, one of the most promising players to emerge in recent times, had his head turned by a career in professional sport with Munster, and there's been no sign of either Ciaran Sheehan or Aidan Walsh – both exciting hurlers but holders of a Celtic Cross thanks to their exploits with the big ball – changing codes.

These defections come at the end of an era for Cork hurling. John Gardiner and Sean Og O hAilpin are gone, while Donal Og Cusack is working his way back from a serious Achilles injury.

It seems players now believe they have a more immediate chance of success with the county's footballers.

"Go back to this time 10 years ago, Cork were there or thereabouts every year in hurling," said hurling star Shane O'Neill.

"Unfortunately over the last five or six years, we haven't been as successful. I can see the point about it being cyclical. Cork footballers weren't as successful going back to 2003-05. You see now the level of effort and preparation that the footballers put in.

"What they've done over the last few years is definitely something we can learn from."

Jimmy Barry-Murphy made it clear when taking over the Rebel hurlers that his was a long-term project. The age profile of his panel has changed dramatically. At just 26, O'Neill (below) is one of the elder statesmen of the squad.

He was named captain under Denis Walsh in 2011 and starts at corner-back for tomorrow's clash with UCC in the Mardyke.

As well as being the Waterford Crystal preliminary round, the game doubles as the inaugural Canon Michael O'Brien Cup. Canon O'Brien guided the students to eight successive Fitzgibbon Cup titles in a row from 1981 to '88.

"There's a lot of younger heads around the panel," O'Neill added. "When I was brought into the panel in 2005, it was a bit daunting, going into a dressing-room with so many big names.

"I don't think it's a similar situation for the younger lads today coming onto the panel because we haven't been as successful as that team from the early 2000s. But there's a good dynamic there."

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