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Blackrock’s Alan O’Callaghan and Brian Lawton with Mark O’Keeffe of Imokilly. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Blackrock’s Alan O’Callaghan and Brian Lawton with Mark O’Keeffe of Imokilly. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
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Club hurling championship gives new Cork boss Meyler much to ponder with a view to 2018

YOU can be sure John Meyler was keeping a close eye on proceedings at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday afternoon.

The new Cork boss is as committed to hurling as they come, liable to pop up at a game at any grade, anywhere, but obviously had a vested interest last weekend. He'd have been watching the form-lines with a view to 2018 and must surely have been impressed with the efforts of youngsters like Blackrock attacking ace Michael O'Halloran, who was under his guidance at U21 level already this season, and Alan O'Callaghan, who nailed the point of the game from the wing.

Ger Millerick, Seamus Harnedy, Paudie O'Sullivan and Brian Lawton, Imokilly.Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Ger Millerick, Seamus Harnedy, Paudie O'Sullivan and Brian Lawton, Imokilly.
Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Imokilly's Ger Millerick, a tenacious man-maker for the Cork minors last summer, particularly against Tipp's Paddy Caddell, was the official Rearden's Man of the Match and he'd a terrific tussle with Stephen Murphy lats Sunday. Both picked up the world of ball for their sides and though Millerick is only turning 18 and still in Leaving Cert in Midleton CBS, he's very much on the radar for the coming seasons.

Murphy, now 22, was a highly-rated prospect at minor and actually featured for Cork in the 2016 league. Injuries have been an issue for him, and he is certainly light, but his hurling is sublime.

Shane O'Keeffe was on the fringes of the Cork set-up last winter and his power and aerial strength was a feature of the championship for the Rockies, especially in the first half when he largely kept John Cronin on the back foot. Unfortunately, for his club especially, O'Keeffe is heading to Australia for a stint.

What about Cronin? The abrasive Lisgoold native, who is also a hardy buck on the football front, made his name with CIT in the Fitzgibbon Cup and their 2011 run to the county final where they were beaten by Carrigtwohill.

Cronin was a late addition to the Cork panel ahead of the 2016 championship and was used as a dog of war in the half-forward line against Tipp and Dublin. He was cut from the squad last winter, which stung him badly, but he was a force of nature all season for Imokilly.

His brother Ciarán is a selector with the division, but recasting him as wing-back played to John's physical strengths and drive. Even if he doesn't earn a recall with Cork the 25-year-old certainly proved his worth as a top-class club hurler.

It was a similar scenario for Paudie O'Sullivan, who had suffered previous county final losses with Cloyne. Turning 29 shortly and due to get married Paudie is probably better off enjoying his hurling with his club and the division, but there's no doubt he had a cracking campaign. Scoring 3-18 from play and dazzling with his touch and flicks.

Brian Lawton's skill was a key factor in Imokilly's title charge and he'll be on the shortlist for Rearden's Club Hurler of the Year at their annual All-Star awards. A bit of a forgotten figure with Cork lately, he was a ball of energy for the division.

The days of unearthing hidden gems from the club game are over, in that development squads, as well as the Harty and Fitzgibbon competitions put youngsters in the spotlight early on.

Of course they don't all come through as elite hurlers. Indeed Seamus Harnedy, Imokilly's captain last weekend, didn't make the cut for Cork at minor and was an unused sub at U21 in 2011 when the Rebels lost a classic Munster final to Limerick after extra time.

Many of the most promising young guns in this year's senior championship would have been on Meyler's radar for some time. Imokilly centre-back Niall O'Leary was the Cork minor captain in 2016 and St Colman's standout performer in their Harty Cup final loss.

Jack O'Connor fired over the 3-16 from play during Sars' path to the county semi, but Meyler already had him in his U21 squad and he earned the late penalty that beat Waterford in the Munster semi.