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Departure of captain McDonnell sees hurling guard continue to change in Cork

The Rebels defender will not be involved in 2018.

Stephen McDonnell lifts the cup Stephen McDonnell lifts the cup after last July's Munster hurling final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THE OVERHAUL OF the squad has been notable.

Cork fell short at the final hurling hurdle in 2013 in an eight-goal Saturday night replay thriller under the floodlights in Croke Park.

Four campaigns on there were only ten survivors that saw game time that evening against Clare, still involved when they bowed out of the 2017 race last August at the hands of Waterford.

The confirmation today that team captain Stephen McDonnell won’t be a figure in their setup for 2018 trims the number down further.

New boss John Meyler revealed to the Irish Examiner that the defender who lifted the Munster senior hurling trophy in July will not be gearing up for next year’s campaign.

Stephen McDonnell celebrates with supporters Stephen McDonnell celebrates with Cork supporters after this year's Munster quarter-final win over Tipperary. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Retirement and squad departures have resulted in an erosion of the Cork camp responsible for the county’s most recent All-Ireland final outing.

From that 2013 side, McDonnell was one of six players who was a regular starter this summer with Anthony Nash, Christopher Joyce, Seamus Harnedy, Patrick Horgan and Conor Lehane.

Conor O’Sullivan, Daniel Kearney, Lorcan McLoughlin and Luke O’Farrell were also part of this year’s squad.

McDonnell’s departure represents the loss of one of the squad’s most experienced campaigners. He turns 29 in January and has been around since making his senior bow in a league match against Offaly in 2011.

A defensive anchor on the Cork team that lost out to a star-studded Tipperary side in the 2007 All-Ireland minor final, he then graduated to the senior stage and nailed down a defensive berth.

Noel McGrath and Stephen McDonnell Stephen McDonnell in action for Cork against Tipperary in the 2007 All-Ireland minor hurling final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

When Kieran Kingston took the reins in the winter of 2015, he entrusted McDonnell with the captaincy responsibility.

It was a natural progression after his key role in Glen Rovers long-awaited county senior hurling breakthrough in 2015, a title they retained in 2016.

The unavailability of McDonnell comes at a time when the new hurling structures are set to place a greater emphasis on panels being well-stocked with options.

Cork entertain Clare in their opening championship assignment on 20 May next with ties away to Tipperary, at home to Limerick and away to Waterford ensuing over the following month.

The dazzling play of emerging youngsters was a striking feature of Cork’s run in 2017. Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Luke Meade and Shane Kingston all flourished in their debut season in the senior arena.

Mark Coleman scores a sideline cut Cork defender Mark Coleman won an All-Star in 2017. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Now Cork will hope for more players to break through. Through his work as senior selector and U21 manager, Meyler will be keenly aware of the resources at his disposal.

From the U21 side that contested last July’s Munster final against Limerick, there are potential defensive prospects in David Griffin and Sean O’Donoghue, who have been on the fringes of the senior squad of late, while U21 captain Darren Browne has been in terrific recent form for a Kanturk side looking forward to an All-Ireland intermediate semi-final in January.

When a scalpel was taken to the Munster championship format, the greater volume of games immediately created the necessity for larger squads to cope with the increased pressures.

For Cork, the departure of McDonnell is a salient reminder of that.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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