Cork v Offaly
Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Saturday, 7pm, Ref: Michael Wadding, Waterford
Latest from the medics and the management… Cork have handed a competitive inter-county debut to 20 year-old Christopher Joyce as he starts at centre-back due to Eoin Cadogan’s involvement with the county footballers. The other change to the team is in attack with Cian McCarthy starting at centre-forward as Patrick Cronin switches to the wing and Cathal Naughton is the player to make way.
CORK SH: 1. Anthony Nash (Kanturk); 2. Shane O Neill (Bishopstown), 3. Brian Murphy (Bride Rovers), 4. Conor O’Sullivan (Sarsfields); 5. Tom Kenny (Grenagh), 6. Christopher Joyce (Na Piarsaigh), 7. William Egan (Kilbrin); 8. Darren Sweetnam (Dohenys), 9. Lorcán McLoughlin (Kanturk); 10. Conor Lehane (Midleton), 11. Cian McCarthy (Sarsfields), 12. Pa Cronin (Bishopstown); 13. Jamie Coughlan (Newtownshandrum), 14. Paudie O’Sullivan (Cloyne), 15. Patrick Horgan (Glen Rovers).
Offaly have made three changes for the game and handed a championship debut to goalkeeper Eoin Kelly in the process. The Lusmagh netminder will replace James Dempsey. Conor Hernon and Sean Ryan make their first championship starts of the season at right corner-back and midfield respectively as David Franks and Cathal Parlon make way. Positional changes also see Derek Morkan moved to right halfback, James Rigney to left corner-back, Conor Mahon to centre-forward, Colin Egan to right half-forward and Joe Bergin to full-forward.
OFFALY SH: 1. Eoin Kelly (Lusmagh); 2. Conor Hernon (St Rynagh’s), 3. David Kenny (Belmont), 4. James Rigney (Kinnitty); 5. Derek Morkan (Shinrone), 6. Rory Hanniffy (Birr), 7. Diarmuid Horan (St Rynagh’s); 8. Kevin Brady (Coolderry), 9. Sean Ryan (Birr); 10. Colin Egan (Belmont), 11. Conor Mahon (Kilcormac/Killoughey), 12. Brendan Murphy (Ballyskenagh); 13. Shane Dooley (Tullamore), 14. Joe Bergin (Seir Kieran), 15. Brian Carroll (Coolderry).
Checking the odds…On the back of Cork’s strong display against Tipperary and Offaly’s emphatic defeat by Galway, Cork are 1/10 favourites with Offaly at 11/2. The handicap betting has Cork (-8) at 11/10.
Clues from the form guide…The clear point of reference here is last summer’s qualifier between the sides when Cork prevailed by 2-17 to 2-16. It was an afternoon fraught with nerves on Leeside as despite being on home soil and despite plundering early goals through Cian McCarthy and Luke O’Farrell, Cork struggled. They lost a man when Patrick Cronin was sent-off but Offaly could not capitalise on that personnel advantage, firing 16 wides and they were left infuriated by the lack of injury-time after Shane Dooley’s last-gasp goal.
Since then the two sides fortunes have diverged with Cork, despite the blip in form in the league final, having ultimately enjoyed a progressive 2012 and there is a lot to build on from the defeat against Tipperary. Offaly attacker Brian Carroll termed their Leinster quarter-final success against Wexford as ‘the first big win’ in his 11th provincial championship campaign but they have since regressed on the evidence of the 5-23 they shipped against Galway recently.
The game breakers are…The key for Offaly travelling south for a difficult tie is what frame of mind they are in. Last year they pushed Dublin hard in the Leinster championship before succumbing and built on that to produce a really competitive display against Cork. The concern this time is what doubts exist in the wake of the pummelling they suffered against Galway three weeks ago. The concession of three goals inside the first ten minutes indicates the faultlines that exist in their rearguard and Ollie Baker has taken corrective surgery in that David Kenny is the only player amongst the goalkeeper and full-back line to survive a cull when it came to selecting that sector of the team. Quelling a Cork full-forward line that shot 0-18, nine of them from play, between them against Tipperary will be high on their agenda.
Cork defender Christopher Joyce in action in last year’s Munster U21HC final. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie
Up front Shane Dooley is unquestionably the match-winner for Offaly and given the trouble that he caused Cork last summer, his threat has been well signposted. Expect Offaly to try to unsettle newcomer Christopher Joyce at centre-back early on but the Na Piarsaigh youngster has displayed a big-game temperament and his form demanded that he was included for this challenge. Cork’s young stars from the league, Darren Sweetnam and Conor Lehane, found championship hurling a step up in pace and intensity when they faced Tipperary but they could now prosper in a more low-key atmosphere with that experience behind them.
Gazing into the crystal ball…The enduring mystery of Offaly hurling teams continues here as it’s difficult to read what sort of display they will produce. The suspicion is that they Cork will be more on their guard after the scare they endured last year. Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s team selection continues with the shift in emphasis to youth with only four players over the age of 25 and nine aged 23 or under. Their performance in challenging Tipperary strongly has generated optimism but there was similar enthusiasm after last year’s Munster championship and the qualifiers were not subsequently a happy hunting ground. If this descends into a battle, it’s a challenge Cork need to rise to with the likes of Shane O’Neill, Patrick Horgan and Paudie O’Sullivan required to be leaders. They should be capable of doing that.