Declan Dalton was the key man for Cork this afternoon, scoring 0-8 and controlling the play around him.

Goal hungry Cork take a chunk out of Galway

Just five points between the teams at the end of a February league game, and a contest in which Galway played the entirety of the second half with 14 men, would hardly suggest the type of form that should be treated as cast iron in advance of more meaningful matches in the summer – and yet there was a real sense permeating the sea air in Salthill this afternoon that Cork had just offered substantial evidence that they were going to be a force to be reckoned with this summer.

Allianz Hurling League Division One

Cork 4-24 – Galway 3-22

It wasn’t just that they won so convincingly; we should bear in mind here that there were eleven points between the teams before Martin McManus’ goal in the last minute of normal time. It was also that it was a Cork team built around dominant performers in positions that were in 2022 perceived to be their vulnerable spots. Ciarán Joyce’s emergence as a force at centre back had been flagged up, while Declan Downey’s physical presence as a ball-winner was well known, so his redeployment on the right wing of the attack looked like a safe bet.

However Conor Lehane’s nomination as captain has seen him step up into the leadership role in fine style, and the real emerging jewel in the Rebel County’s crown appears to be Eoin Downey at full back. Many would have thought that Eoin, who completed his Leaving Cert in 2022, was only keeping the number three jersey warm for his brother Rob, but many more performances like this afternoon’s effort, and Cork manager Pat Ryan will have some tough calls to make.

It’s easy to forget too, after the final whistle sounds, that Cork had to dig themselves out of something of a hole early on too.

Galway’s inside forward line of Martin McManus, Kevin Cooney and Evan Niland were on fire early on, and while Dalton set up Lehane for an goal in the tenth minute to undo some early damage, Cooney responded in kind for the Tribesmen, and a string of good points saw them move 1-9 to 1-4 ahead by the end of the first quarter.

A significant number of their scores came from Niland’s frees, but that spoke volumes about how much space they were able to generate within 40 metres of the Cork goal, and the number of times their inside forwards found themselves one-on-one with their markers, chasing excellent deliveries.

At the other end, it was all about Dalton, as he set up scoring chances – including a goal chance that Shane Barrett hammered into the crossbar – won frees, and converted plenty of points himself. His controlled bat of the sliotar into Barrett set up Cork’s sixth point in a row to push them into the lead after 26 minutes, and they were still playing marginally the better hurling at half-time, with the sides deadlocked at 1-13 each.

In the five minutes after the restart, the contest changed utterly. An uncharacteristic fumble from Cathal Mannion allowed Barrett to steal possession and set up Seán Twomey for a close-range goal, and an infringement by Oisín Salmon during the move saw the Clarinbridge defender receive a second yellow card.

On the next play, Lehane found the net again, and three more points in the next five minutes saw a finely-balanced tie suddenly have nine points between the teams.

That was how it continued for most of the second half, with Galway briefly chipping away a couple of points here and there, but Cork always able to deliver a response. Conor Whelan, who had been quiet in the first half, weighed in with some impressive scores, while McManus continued to battle against the tide, but it seemed like the contest was meandering to a conclusion, until McManus and then Brian Concannon goaled in quick succession, either side of a Cathal Mannion point.

Suddenly two minutes of added time remained, and when Galway were awarded a penalty for a foul on Concannon, Cooney had the chance to cut the gap to two points.

His low effort was saved by Patrick Collins, and the day’s action concluded – but the question of how much today’s events have foreshadowed the summer is very much open.

Scorers for Cork: Conor Lehane 2-3, Declan Dalton 0-8 (0-2f) Seán Twomey 2-0, Shane Kingston 0-6 (0-4f), Shane Barrett 0-4, Cormac Beausang 0-1, Brian Hayes 0-1, Conor Cahalane 0-1.

Scorers for Galway: Evan Niland 0-11 (0-8f), Martin McManus 1-3, Kevin Cooney 1-1, Brian Concannon 1-0, Conor Whelan 0-2, Pádraic Mannion 0-1, Jason Flynn 0-1, Cianán Fahy 0-1, Cathal Mannion 0-1, Liam Collins 0-1f.

Cork: Patrick Collins; Conor O’Callaghan, Eoin Downey, Eoin Roceh; Tommy O’Connell, Ciarán Joyce, Cormac O’Brien; Brian Roche, Sam Quirke; Declan Dalton, Conor Lehane, Seán Twomey; Cormac Beausang, Shane Barrett, Shane Kingston.

Subs: Luke Meade for Quirke (39), Brian Hayes for Beausang (47), Conor Cahalane for Barrett (55), Pádraig Power for Kingston (59), Colin Walsh for Roche (69).

Galway: Darach Fahy; Oisín Salmon, Gearóid McInerney; Jack Grealish; Pádraic Mannion, Joseph Cooney, Darren Morrissey; Gavin Lee, Seán Linnane; Tom Monaghan, Conor Whelan, Jason Flynn; Evan Niland, Kevin Cooney, Martin McManus.

Subs: Cianán Fahy for Monaghan (half-time), Cathal Mannion for Lee (43), Ronan Murphy for Morrissey (53), Brian Concannon for Flynn (58), Liam Collins for Niland (66).

Referee: Johnny Murphy (Limerick)

Kevin Egan reports from Pearse Stadium