Cork are ready to get busy this spring

Gaining access to his players this spring hasn’t been as cut and dry as Cork Under 21 manager Sean Hayes would have wished.

He’s not complaining, mind, fully aware of the busy schedule being negotiated by his troops.

The Cork U21 side first assembled on New Year’s Day, but Hayes admits the 15 who take to the field in this evening’s Munster championship opener against Limerick have yet to play a full hour of football together.

Arranging players for training and challenges over the past two months has been a struggle, given the respective campaigns of the Cork senior hurlers, Cork senior footballers and UCC’s Sigerson and fresher teams.

Common sense had to prevail to ensure there would be no pulling and dragging of players, an all too familiar a sight at this time of year.

“It is a problem, in that you are cutting across several different teams,” Hayes said. “We played numerous challenges against the likes of Austin Stacks, Cork seniors and juniors, Donegal’s U21s and Armagh’s U21s, but we never had a full team. You are chopping and changing the whole time. If it isn’t Sigerson eating into your team [where Michael Martin, Jamie Davis, Ian Maguire, Sean White, Alan O’Donovan and Conor Horgan were involved], it is Cork senior hurling. Peter [Kelleher] and Sean [O’Donoghue] were in with them for the Waterford Crystal Cup. There is always something.

“You are trying to be fair with everyone. During the Sigerson, I was talking to Billy [Morgan], and I have been in regular contact with Brian [Cuthbert] to ensure there is no pulling and dragging. The same with Mark Landers and Jimmy Barry-Murphy. You keep the lines of communication open and take it week-by-week in determining what game and team takes priority. That is the way it has been all year, that is the way it has to be.

“Part of management is to make sure the players know where they are going at all times. It’s benefiting no one, least of all the player, if they are out seven nights a week. Players will go where they are asked and train as often as they can. It is trying to strike a balance.”

Injuries haven’t aided preparations and though named at midfield, Hayes revealed Ian Maguire isn’t certain to start. “He has a bulging disc in his back and progress has been slow. His first field session since coming back was Sunday morning. He trained again on Monday night so we are hoping he will be ready to go. We wouldn’t be 100% confident yet. Brian O’Driscoll pulled his hamstring in the Sigerson final three weeks ago. He did get through a club match on Friday night, but it was very stiff again on Sunday morning. Rather than risking him, we have him on the bench.”

Cork beat Limerick 3-15 to 0-8 in the corresponding fixture last March but Hayes warned: “Limerick have really upped their efforts since. Their U21s are now training with the senior squad. Six of their panel are on the senior team. We are hopeful we are going to win, but there’s no point looking beyond Wednesday.”

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