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Monday, March 20, 2023

27 players used, 11 started every game and 13 goals scored

THE contrast between Cork’s 2022 league and the current campaign couldn’t be starker on a number of levels.

This time last season the Rebels had just one point in the bank following a home draw against Clare sandwiched either side of an opening day loss in Roscommon and following on further defeats to Derry, Galway and Meath.

If left their Division 2 status dangling over the cliff edge before pulling back with wins over Down and Offaly, dispatching the pair in the process to the third tier.

Now, Cork have already retained their position in an always competitive section again for 2024 with a very outside chance of catching promotion favorites Derry and Dublin and all this with two more games remaining, away to Louth on Sunday week and home to Derry seven days later .

The first signs of a different approach were evident on January 4, a typical dour Wednesday night early in the New Year, when new manager John Cleary put out a very strong team to play All-Ireland champions Kerry, still in holiday mode, and duly dumped five goals on Jack O’Connor’s experimental side.

It signaled how Cork were preparing to meet the twin challenges of surviving with the likes of the Dubs and Kildare, relegated from Division 1, Ulster champions Derry, old rivals Meath, Mickey Harte’s Louth and Munster neighbors Limerick and Clare and ensuring their place in the newly constructed All-Ireland.

Minor alterations for subsequent games against the mid-west duo en route to collecting pre-season silverware cemented the way forward and it’s continued in the league, where Cork, unlike other counties, were in no mood for fiddling with their 15.

By my reckoning, Cork have used 27 players in the five games to date, three wins and a couple of defeats, and while this may seem a large number, consider match-day panels can extend to 26 of which half a dozen can be introduced .

The fact that they’ve only 19 players who began all five also reveals their thinking in quickly establishing a core team from the outset and carrying on in a similar vein until form or injuries become a factor.


The most striking statistic of many is the 11 players who’ve started all five matches, ranging from keeper Micheal Aodh Martin (Nemo Rangers) to defenders Maurice Shanley (Clonakilty), Daniel O’Mahony (Knocknagree), Rory Maguire (Castlehaven) and Mattie Taylor (Mallow), midfielders Ian Maguire (St Finbarr’s) and Colm O’Callaghan (Éire Óg) to forwards Eoghan McSweeney (Knocknagree), Sean Powter (Douglas), Chris Óg Jones (Iveleary) and captain Brian Hurley (Castlehaven).

Of that select group, another quartet, Martin, O’Mahony, Taylor and O’Callaghan have been ever-present in the matches so far though O’Mahony’s black card against Clare last weekend probably requires an asterisk, but you get the drift.

Yet, Cork aren’t slow to change personnel if they believe it’s required. Kevin O’Donovan (Nemo Rangers) started in his customary corner-back role against Meath but was replaced by U20 Tommy Walsh (Kanturk) in subsequent matches and he has retained the number 4 jersey.

Sean Meehan (Kisteam) played right half-back in the first game but since then Luke Fahy (Ballincollig) has established himself in a very competitive sector while the only other changes to the starting 15 were injured to Brian O’Driscoll (Tadhg MacCarthaighs) and Steven Sherlock (St Finbarr’s) up top.

The Carbery player more than justified his recall following a string of impressive performances for his division in last season’s county championship only to suffer a hamstring injury against Limerick which forced him out of the recent Clare game.

His replacement Ruairi Deane (Bantry Blues) seized his opportunity with both hands and now O’Driscoll has a battle on his hands to get the 12 jersey on his back once again.

An ankle injury ruled out Sherlock with Conor Corbett (Clyda Rovers) taking over in the corner to underline the potential scoring power up front even despite Cathail O’Mahony’s absence.

Cork by numbers:

27 players used.

19 players started.

11 ever present starters.

4 played every minute.

15 scorers.

13 goals scored.

4 goals conceded.

71 points scored.

Cork scorers:

1 Steven Sherlock 0-24 (0-14 f, 0-1 45)

2 Brian Hurley 1-16 (0-7 f, 0-2 m)

3 Sean Power 4-2

4 Chris Og Jones 0-10

5 Mattie Taylor, Conor Corbett 2-2 each.

7 Eoghan McSweeney 1-4

8 Colm O’Callaghan 1-2

9 Ian Maguire, Cathail O’Mahony 1-1 each.

11 Brian O’Driscoll 0-3.

12 Maurice Shanley, Luke Fahy, John O’Rourke, Ruairí Deane 0-1 each.

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