No-one is too big to be dropped
Cork boss Walsh relishing the chance to impose his will on team in league, writes Martin Breheny
REPUTATIONS based on achievements from the last decade will count for nothing as Denis Walsh prepares to take Cork into the new hurling season without the baggage which weighed them down in the early months of the last two years.
Walsh, who replaced Gerald McCarthy as manager following a players' strike last spring, had no real opportunity to impose his personality on the panel in the hectic months that followed, but has been concentrating on that aspect amid the fresh harmony which currently exists on Leeside.
"Getting to know and understand the players has been a big priority for me. I had very little time to do that last year but it's different now," he said. "When I went in last year it was a question of trying to get momentum going as quickly as possible, but everybody else was well ahead at that stage. We're going in on a level playing pitch this time."
Essentially, Walsh was operating off an inherited panel, but he's now in the job for more than 10 months, which has enabled him to make his own assessments. Several of the squad have two or three All-Ireland medals and have also proven that they possess a steely resolve off the field, as demonstrated in their battles with the county board.
Consequently, there's now a huge interest -- inside and outside Cork -- in how Walsh will structure the side. How difficult would he find it to omit some of the experienced names who have big reputations as forceful personalities?
"Look, it's very simple. The team will be chosen on the basis of who's playing well. Anyone who's not going well won't be chosen, those who are will. Everybody in the squad knows that," said Walsh.
He has long since drawn a large black line under some of the most troubled chapters in Cork hurling history and is now looking forward to a season which they are approaching on the same basis as everybody else.
"It's about hurling, it's about getting ready for games and it's about winning as many as you can," Walsh continued. "We have a really competitive league schedule ahead which I'm looking forward to because it gives us seven games to test ourselves against the best in the country before we head for the championship."
Walsh was speaking at the launch of the 2010 Allianz National Hurling Leagues yesterday, accompanied by two of his biggest rivals. Brian Cody and Liam Sheedy, bosses of the country's top two counties over the past couple of years, talked of how their commitment to the league would be as intense as ever.
Cody, who has steered Kilkenny to seven All-Irelands and five National Leagues in the last decade, will never deviate from what has been the most successful formula in hurling history.
"Of course we want to win the league. Why play in it otherwise? It has served us well over the years and we'll be doing out utmost to win it again," he said.
Sheedy, whose Tipperary side won the league in 2008 and were runners-up to Kilkenny last year, also regards the competition as an extremely important part of the preparation for the championship.
"You're always looking for new players to show that they have the potential to make it through to the team, and a league which has seven games against top opposition certainly tests lads," he said. "If you expect a player to prove that he's ready to step into the championship team, he has to be doing it in the league. Padraic Maher and Noel McGrath found their feet for us in last year's league and got even better in the championship."
Tipperary host Kilkenny in the first round of the league under lights at Semple Stadium on Saturday week, and Cork host Offaly a day later.
All league games will be played under experimental rules, including one which demands that there must a clear striking action with the hand if a pass is to be deemed legal. This is designed to eradicate the grey area on what constitutes a properly executed pass as opposed to a throw, but Sheedy has some concerns over how it will be implemented.
"It can be a hard call for referees, but it's very important to get it right as it can change a game," he said.
Meanwhile, Cody revealed that Noel Hickey, who missed all of last year due to injury, was making good progress in his battle to reclaim the No 3 jersey later in the season.