Meyler looks to unearth fresh talent
Diarmuid Sheehan reflects on the Cork senior hurlers opening game of the season and the experimental side named
It is important at this time of the year not to get over excited either way when it comes to all things GAA on the national stage.
As the official inter-county hurling season got going last weekend - before the old year had even ended - Cork lined out against Limerick looking to blow away the Christmas cobwebs in the Munster Hurling League - and while the rusty old shackles were removed from all concerned, participation in the event was probably more important than anything that was likely to happen on then pitch.
First and foremost, it is hard to see many of the players wearing red last Saturday night retaining their jerseys come championship time, however, if last year's preseason and leagues taught us anything it was there are opportunities to progress within the Cork hurling structure if you can put your hand up at the right time.
John Meyler had his new side on show for the first time and credit to Cork hurling fans they came out in numbers to show their support. 1,364 paid through the gates in Mallow on a cold, wet and windy evening to see just what Meyler's young guns were able to bring to the table against a side now seen by many as one of the weaker counties in Munster hurling.
Cork started well enough on Saturday night and while not hitting anything like the heights we saw in 2017, they did at times look good enough - of course they lost, but that probably had more to do with the fact that the opposition had most of Limerick's household names in their line-up rather than anything inherently wrong with Cork's approach.
After the game John Meyler spoke openly about how happy he was at the display given and how his side were in experimental rather than a full blown competitive mode. Of course the game was not at anything like the intensity one would hope to see come Championship and was also several notches below what we can expect come National League time.
Players had plenty time on the ball to show their wares and, while this was more than a training session, it had in the main little or no flashpoints to get the crowd or the players going - in fact the first free for anything like an infringement wasn't until the 20th minute.
So what was this game for? According to Meyler it was seen as a chance for players to "put their hand up" to move on to the next level. In 2017 players like Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman, Luke Meade and Shane Kingston shot to the top of the tree early in the year and managed to shine though-out the season in one of Cork's best campaigns in years.
The quartet showed that there are chances to break in but you have to take them. Every player that went onto the pitch for Cork last weekend would have been only too aware of the possibilities that lay ahead and while the conditions were far from ideal it is fair to say that the new manager was there to be impressed so players had to go and try to impress him and some clearly did.
Sarsfields Jack O'Connor in the corner got some praise at the finish from the new commander and chief while Carrigaline's Robert O'Shea and Eoghan Finn (St Finbarr's) at wing-forward also did well.
In the back line the experiment that was Tim O'Mahony at centre-back was fine, but will need some more time to work out. Ballinhassig's Patrick Collins in goal is a fine keeper and has played for Cork before but while he did okay, he seemed a little over keen to impress - that said, Collins is a terrific keeper and will probably stay as understudy for a while yet. Dean Brosnan was another that did well with a hat trick of points from play.
Cork had structure on the night with I assume few prepared or instructed to think that-far outside the box. That said, some nice scores and a little bit of fire at times showed that the lads are prepared to fight for their respective jerseys, no matter what odds are stacked against them.
After making it to the last four in the All Ireland series in 2017, 2018 is a huge year for Cork hurling and, while retaining provincial glory may well be seen as a bridge too far this time out, a comfortable league, a competitive Munster campaign and at least a quarter-final place may well be seen as a pretty good transition to the Meyler era.
Last weekend has told us little in that regard, but another two competitive Munster Senior League fixtures and we may begin to see something resembling a good league panel - with a least one or two new faces to keep those long thinkers on side.