Saturday 19 October 2019

Renaissance men have found their attacking groove

From Hurley and McShane to Cox, Coen and Newman, inside lines have been transformed this summer

Forward thinking: Roscommon’s Conor Cox. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Forward thinking: Roscommon’s Conor Cox. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Brian Cuthbert might have allowed himself a smile when Brian Hurley pulled off a dummy-solo to put Mark Collins in for Cork's third goal against Laois in Saturday evening's fourth-round qualifier.

Hurley had already bagged two goals by then, but if anything told his former Cork manager that he was 'back' it was the confidence to execute that little bit of mischief.

It's too simplistic to chart Hurley's return with Cork's summer resurgence but still, the sight of such a talented player expressing himself in such a way again, when all the medical indicators were that his career was over, has had an uplifting effect.

Hurley was, of course, a star Cork minor in 2010, translating that ability through his U-21 years and by the time Cuthbert had taken over in Cork in 2014 he was quickly developing into their most prolific forward.

"He was a stand-out player in those years. For Cork to function at all, we need goals and he's one of the guys that, when he's on form, he scores a lot of them. Cork have missed him," Cuthbert acknowledges.


Cork’s Brian Hurley. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Cork’s Brian Hurley. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Arguably his peak performance came against Dublin in the 2014 league semi-final when he scored five first-half points to put Dublin briefly on the ropes before the champions made a stunning recovery.

"A lot of the trouble he caused, he was able to get in behind the Dublin defence because he was so elusive and he is very good on the ball. A lot of those Dublin defenders are still there now," Cuthbert notes, ahead of their first championship meeting in six years.

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Cuthbert credits the Cork medical team for their part in his remarkable rehabilitation, revealing that one of the team doctors accompanied him to London for both operations to repair the hamstring and "slept overnight on a chair".

"During his rehab, he has had a physio one-to-one every day. I saw pictures on Twitter, early-morning training sessions with him and the physio on their own in the depths of winter. It hasn't surprised me to see him in the last couple of games, he looks explosive."

Meath’s Mickey Newman. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Meath’s Mickey Newman. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Hurley has deliberately "leaned down," according to Cuthbert, shedding weight to ease the load on his hamstrings.

"Football defines him in some ways and that's not meant as a slight, it's just he is so ingrained in playing it all his life that this is it. The work he has done over the last two-and-a-half years has been absolutely phenomenal, I would say before he got injured he probably had got very strong in terms of build. It was decided to take a load off his hamstrings. He's leaned out a huge amount which was all part of a bigger plan."

Hurley's story is one of the number of renaissance threads weaving through full-forward lines this summer.

When Conor Cox rammed in 3-7 for St Michael's Listowel against Mercy Secondary School in the 2011 All-Ireland Colleges 'C' final in Templemore, Westmeath journalist Gerry Buckley was sure he was watching a future Kerry star, making mental and written notes of his performance.

Tyrone’s Cathal McShane. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile
Tyrone’s Cathal McShane. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile

But Cox's time in green and gold was short-lived and instead his talents have manifested quite spectacularly in his father Martin's native county, Roscommon, to where he transferred this year to illuminate their Connacht campaign when it became apparent that he was surplus to Kerry requirements.

In the final against Galway he did something surely unique, scoring points off the inside and outside of both feet to underline a range of kicking skills that few possess.

Like Hurley, he was a 2010 minor who has taken until now, as a 27-year-old, to make his mark, scoring 15 points with perfect symmetry, five points (two frees) in each game.

Mayo's Darren Coen falls into that age category too as an overnight inter-county success. Coen's Mayo career had been more stop than start, first surfacing in 2012 and featuring more prominently during the 2013 Connacht Championship. But his involvement petered out once the current manager James Horan departed, only resurfacing when Horan came back late last year. He clearly didn't forget.


His point-taking this summer has been prolific, landing 0-5 against Roscommon, 0-4 against Armagh and 0-3 against Galway the last day, underlining how accuracy can supplant speed and physique if the service is good. It begs the question as to why he wasn't persisted with more in recent years.

Cathal McShane hasn't had to travel that same road of renewal and rehabilitation as the others but his switch to full-forward has been transformative, giving Tyrone a 'back-to-goal' presence that they have been missing.

Even as Tyrone recovered some of their counter-attacking instincts after the Donegal defeat, McShane remained at full-forward where his ball-winning, intelligent lay-offs and ability to score on the turn have been a feature of their resurgence.

Mickey Newman's impact on his return to Meath has also been felt. Having sat out last year to allow for ankle and elbow injuries to recover, Newman has contributed 3-20 to their push for a place in the Super 8s.

Even counties now out of the championship have contributed to the attacking swell. It took an imaginative leap on Cavan's behalf to post Dara McVeety to full-forward while Rian O'Neill's quick development for Armagh signposts a brighter future for them.

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