A rising tide that is lifting all boats

Cork had lost senior star Darragh Fitzgibbon to a straight red card moments beforehand and were trailing by two points, facing the wind, before pulling out that dramatic win.

The rising red tide manifests itself in different ways, it seems.

The Munster senior and minor titles won by Cork last Sunday are the leading edge of the Leesiders’ return to hurling prominence. 

There has been much comment about the minor side giving their senior colleagues a guard of honour before the Munster final last Sunday - an initiative driven spontaneously by the minors themselves - but the dramatic late win for the U21s may be a more tangible sign of the new confidence in Cork hurling.

Twelve of the U21 squad are involved with the senior side and U21 manager John Meyler is a senior selector, creating a strong continuity between the two camps.

On Leeside the signs are visible in other places also, and at the grassroots level it’s clearer than anywhere else.

Cork officials have long been proud of the facts that they are a leading county in terms of Kellogg’s Cul Camp participation, accounting for a full 10 per cent of national participation, and almost 40 per cent of Munster participation numbers, but this year clubs are reporting a huge increase in numbers.

Cork county board officials have found that some clubs have doubled and even trebled the number of camp participants this summer and are pointing to the intercounty side’s success as the driver behind that increase.

Cork’s return to the top table has spiked numbers elsewhere also. 

Last Sunday’s Munster final was attended by almost 20,000 more people than last year’s provincial decider, and overall the Munster hurling championship attendance figures have increased by a massive 27 per cent - up from 100,868 last season to 127,992 in 2017, the highest cumulative attendance for the championship in almost a decade (attendance topped 136,000 in 2008). 

That increase is directly linked to Cork’s reinvigorated following, and the surge in attendances will have a significant impact on Gaelic games in the province - the increase means the Munster Council will have an extra EU500,000 on hand in gate receipts when they do their end of year accounts.

Those attendances are reflected down the grades also. Last Sunday’s beaten provincial minor finalists, Clare, opened their Munster minor championship with a home win over Limerick in Ennis attended by 1,622 in April.

By contrast new Munster champions Cork and Tipperary replayed their minor semi-final in Pairc Ui Rinn on July 3 in front over 8,000 people, surfing the surge in support for the Rebel seniors to a narrow win.

On Thursday night in Walsh Park the attendance was over 4,000, with another sizeable visiting support.

All of this comes against the background of the redeveloped Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which is now on the cusp of opening. 

The ramifications of the new facility will be sharp and immediate for games management in Cork, as it will immediately increase the number of championship matches which can be played in the county, a huge challenge when the demands of over 200 registered clubs intersect directly with a lengthy run in the senior championship.

With the Cork hurlers heading to Croke Park in August, the new stadium offers a chance to play up to five extra games a weekend in the local championships, and it is widely expected that the new all-weather pitch alongside the stadium will be pressed into service as a playing venue as well, though that may not become a factor until 2018.

The availability of Páirc Uí Chaoimh Mark II will be welcomed by Cork officials who, as of Thursday evening’s U21 clash, had seen their county teams play a staggering 24 provincial championship games (the remaining provincial fixture, that U21 final, will be played against Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds).

In view of the complaints from Waterford and Wexford about having to travel to Cork for their counties’ All-Ireland quarter-final clash next weekend, those officials have pointed to the fact that only eight of those provincial games were played on Leeside, a figure which is sure to increase when the new stadium comes on line fully for the 2018 season.

A lot of hurling remains in 2017, of course. 

Among the Cork supporters spilling out of Walsh Park last Sunday some could recall another dramatic last-gasp winner at U21 level 20 years ago, when Timmy McCarthy’s late strike against Tipperary infused another generation of Cork hurlers with the belief to go on to eventual All-Ireland success at senior level. 

Will the tide continue to rise?

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