Monday 18 December 2017

Sean Og handed new role on return as Rebels look for perfect blend

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It's not quite the risk he took in 1996, when throwing an 18-year-old Sean Og O hAilpin into the cauldron of a clash against Limerick -- his senior inter-county debut -- which resulted in Cork's heaviest ever championship defeat at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

But Jimmy Barry-Murphy's selection of O hAilpin at midfield for Cork's opening league match against Waterford at Pairc Ui Rinn on Saturday almost 16 years later is something of a punt nonetheless.

In all the speculation there's been about the composition of Barry-Murphy's first meaningful team selection of his second stint as Cork manager, no one could have foreseen the merging of two different generations to form the first midfield pairing of the competitive season.

Darren Sweetnam (18) had scarcely held a hurl when O hAilpin walked into the storm of that Limerick defeat in late May '96. But in keeping with Barry-Murphy's propensity in his previous term as manager for giving youth its fling, he hasn't hesitated in giving one of the stars of last year's minor team his chance.

With an apparent surplus of backs in the squad, O hAilpin may find that it is his best chance of nailing down a permanent position, 16 months after Barry-Murphy's predecessor Denis Walsh had appeared to have closed the door on his inter-county career.

O hAilpin has worked extremely hard to pitch himself back into inter-county hurling at the age of 34 and midfield, a position he has played in previous league matches, may now suit his game.

But it will become obvious very quickly if he still has the legs for the inter-county game. Clearly a vision exists that he can put his experience to good use there.

With Pa Cronin switched to centre-forward to provide a greater aerial presence there, opportunity knocks for the oldest and youngest members of Barry-Murphy's squad.

Sweetnam is not the only debutant. Ross Cashman, an All-Ireland intermediate medal winner in 2009, has been selected at centre-back.

It is a match that Cork will feel they must win, not just to get their league campaign off to a decent start and help preserve their Division 1A league status, but because their record against Waterford over the last three seasons has not been good.

In five meetings between the sides in championship and league, Davy Fitzgerald did not lose once during his three and a half years as Deise manager. Cork's last victory over Waterford in the league came in 2008 on Justin McCarthy's watch when the Rebel county won by 2-17 to 1-19.

Last year Waterford won the corresponding fixture 0-18 to 0-17, while in 2010 they drew twice, once in the league (2-20 to 3-17) and once in the championship (2-15 each) before Waterford's Munster final replay success (1-16 to 1-13) under the Semple Stadium lights.

Waterford also won their 2009 league meeting by 2-22 to 3-15, Fitzgerald's first match against the Rebels.

Cork (SH v Waterford) -- D Og Cusack; B Murphy, S McDonnell, S O'Neill; J Gardiner, R Cashman, W Egan; S Og O hAilpin, D Sweetnam; C Lehane, P Cronin, C Naughton; P Horgan, P O'Sullivan, B O'Connor. Subs: M Coleman, A Nash, D Cahalane, M O'Sullivan, T Kenny, L McLoughlin, L O'Farrell, B Corry, C O'Sullivan, C Joyce, J Coughlan.

Irish Independent

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