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Cork hurling's sleeping giant awakens to be main man in success over Tipperary

Cork centre-forward stood up to be man-of-the-match in Thurles.

Cork's Conor Lehane goes up against Tipperary's Ronan Maher.
Cork's Conor Lehane goes up against Tipperary's Ronan Maher.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

HE WILL TURN 25 in July and it’s over six years since he made his senior bow in a league game against Dublin.

Yet despite that level of experience, Diarmuid O’Sullivan didn’t hesitate in classing Conor Lehane as ‘a sleeping giant’ in the wake of the Cork forward’s mesmeric attacking display yesterday in Semple Stadium.

Lehane walked off with a haul of 0-10 and the man-of-the-match award after his most complete senior championship display for the county.

The Midleton man has offered plenty glimpses in the past of what he can unleash up front.

There was 0-7 from play against Waterford in the first league game of JBM’s second coming in 2012, a bullet to the net in the 2013 All-Ireland final and some free-scoring displays in the summer of 2014 against Limerick and Tipperary.

Yet yesterday he elevated his performance to another level.

“Yeah, he’s been a sleeping giant,” said O’Sullivan.

“He’ll give us 20 minutes, he’ll give us 15 minutes, he’ll give us 40 minutes. I don’t think Conor Lehane has ever given Cork a full 70.

“But I’m not surprised. There is no one who has dedicated himself more to this group since we went back training.

“No one has trained harder, no one has hurled more or practiced more than Conor, so I’m not surprised.”

Diarmuid O'Sullivan Cork hurling selector Diarmuid O'Sullivan Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Lehane’s tally of 10 points was split evenly between open play and placed balls. He struck over a couple of gems from play yet assuming free-taking responsibilities was a new experience, with Patrick Horgan entrusted to that role in recent times.

“I think any team needs to have two or three reliable free-takers,” suggested Cork boss Kieran Kingston.

“We’ve seen that over the last number of years, all the All-Ireland winning best teams, they swap free-takers during games.

“They swap it from game to game and we’re no different. We have to have more than one free-taker at this level of hurling.

“A guy gets injured after 10 minutes, all of a sudden you’ve no free-taker. That’s part and parcel of management really.”

For the player himself there was a general level of content at Cork delivering a big championship victory after a few years of stagnation.

“You’re farting around there the last few years, just going through the motions. There’s only so many years you can do that before you get fed up.

“They (expectations) couldn’t have been much lower before the game. They’re obviously going to be higher but it’s a quarter-final, it’s not anything to boast about yet but it’s a great win.

“We’ve seen the way we play in training against each other. We’re always like, why can’t we put this together in a match?

Ronan Maher and Conor Lehane Conor Lehane (right) in action against Tipperary yesterday. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“It was how we respond to things mentally, more than anything. Even in some of the games in the League, we’d play a half each and even against Kilkenny, we had a good first half but fell away in the second.

“It’s very frustrating but a huge effort went in and we’re absolutely exhausted. There were lads cramping, that’s how intense it was.

“In Thurles on championship day, it’s kill or be killed. It’s brutal but enjoyable at the same time, kind of a weird mixture.”

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