Conor Lehane: 'It's going in the right direction'
By Cian O'Connell
Conor Lehane reckons the future is bright for the Cork hurlers following two Munster titles in a row.
All Ireland Semi-Final defeats against Waterford and Limerick hurt deeply, but the splendid Midleton attacker remains optimistic.
Encouraging signs are available for Cork according to Lehane. "Definitely, just going by the last few years it's going in the right direction," Lehane says.
"Previous to that we weren't anywhere near it, but we've been a lot more competitive the last two years. "The situation we were in was that we needed to get back on track and we've done that to an extent. This year was a bit disappointing because we lost out at the same round as last year but we're still on that learning curve.
"Every other team is so competitive too. If you do happen to end up getting to a final or even winning it's great, but for everyone else you're taking the learnings out of it and going at it again really."
Considering the tight Championship schedule how will Cork approach the upcoming Allianz Hurling League? "Again, it's a very hard one to imagine that players might say, 'We'll go at three-quarter pace' or 'we'll take it easy'," Lehane states.
"You're never in a position to take it easy. It's not as if, as players, you can even presume that you're going to get your place in the team. With the Under 21s coming through this year and the likelihood that fellas will be coming into the panel the competition for places is going to be a big battle in itself.
"I think the League will be about building confidence and setting our stall out for the year. It starts from that and then it naturally builds on come the summer time. But at county level you could never afford to drop the pace in any game really."
Lehane enjoyed the new summer format in 2018. "I definitely liked the extra games," Lehane admits. "It was more matches and less training. I know it can be tough if things don't go well for you but if you can generate some momentum it's a really enjoyable experience. But I know it could also be equally difficult to get out of a slump if things are going against you."
The fact that so many outfits can be classed as serious All Ireland contenders offers Cork significant hope.
"That's the dream really and it's a great situation not even just for Cork, or other counties who genuinely believe they can win it, but for the supporters because the entertainment value is shooting up," Lehane acknowledges.
"I think the average fan out there is looking at 2019 and genuinely doesn't have a clue who is going to win the All-Ireland.
"There's no single team dominating, where they might get into people's heads a bit. Kilkenny obviously dominated for so long there but it's great to see that literally any one of a number of counties can do it now.
"Look at Waterford in the final last year and this year were unable to get out of Munster. It shows how competitive it is and that really keeps you on your toes."
Sky Sports Pundit, Ollie Canning, Cork star Conor Lehane and two time All Star award winner, Conor McManus attended the GAA Youth Forum. This is the second year of a five year grassroots partnership which has seen Sky Sports extend its support beyond the screen and invest €3million directly into GAA grassroots. As well as partnering with the GAA in support of today’s Youth Forum, Sky Sports will also continue to grow the game through its involvement with the GAA Super Games Centres countrywide, an initiative which encourages more kids to participate and get involved in Gaelic Games as well as The GAA Games Development Conference (January 2019).