Former Cork selector Seanie McGrath feels Kieran Kingston is correct to select younger players in his championship team, saying the Cork manager is “on the right road” with his youth policy.
The expectation is that Cork will field several U21 players in Sunday’s Munster senior championship clash with Tipperary and McGrath, an All-Ireland winner in 1999, says: “Other managers have done that. Jimmy (Barry-Murphy) did it in the late nineties, even though he had successful minor and U21 teams to draw from, and Kieran is doing it now - and he’s right. He has no other choice.
“People talk about the 1999 All-Ireland, but we took years to get there. An horrendous defeat in 1996 to Limerick, progress in 1997, we won our first Munster championship game in six years in 1998 and thought we were going well winning the league - and Clare put us back in our box in the championship. It was the fourth year when we landed the All-Ireland title.
“Kieran’s in a similar situation. He’s in a developmental stage with Cork, and I don’t think Cork are going to win a provincial or All-Ireland title this year, but what you’d like to see is Cork becoming more competitive. It’d be brilliant to get over the line on Sunday but if not, a good run in the qualifiers would be massive.
“It would help these young players in terms of development, learning how to come back when you don’t play well, when the other team have the upper hand for a while in a game. That’s not being negative - I think Cork have a strong side, they’re well coached and their manager is very good, but if they’re competitive on Sunday and push on during the summer, it’d be a good year for Cork.”
McGrath feels the talent is coming through on Leeside: “To be fair to the young lads being thrown in, it’s on the back of a good league campaign. They’ve gotten a run of games and performed well, and talking to Jackie Tyrrell recently he singled out Mark Coleman, for instance, as someone who plays with his head up. That’s what Cork need.
“One thing Tipp have done well in recent years is use the half-back line as a launchpad, and Coleman does that for Cork. That was the first thing I noticed about him.
“Shane Kingston’s been spoken of for a long time and now he’s had a good run of league games. He’s bulked up and is stronger, he’s well able to take lads on. On the other hand, someone like Luke Meade may not have a frame that will bulk up hugely, but he has wrists to die for - a great goal against Waterford in the league. Darragh Fitzgibbon has shown up well too, so Cork have a mix of lads coming through who should start.
“Cork are producing quality at underage level,” says McGrath.
“I was involved with the minors in 2010-11 when we had the likes of Conor Lehane and Damien Cahalane, Christopher Joyce.
“They were all integral to getting to the All-Ireland final in 2013 and winning Munster in 2014. The last two years haven’t been great, which has overshadowed the good work that was done in 2013-14, when we nearly won a senior All-Ireland with players who didn’t have a lot of underage success.
“ I still think it’s possible to produce senior players who haven’t won a whole pile of underage medals.”
Many of Kingston’s options have little experience of Croke Park, however.
“I don’t think people appreciate at times how much there is to the big games in Dublin and so on - the family looking forward to it all the week, overnighting in the Burlington, going in on the bus, gauging the crowd. All of that stands to you.
“We lost the All-Ireland semi-final in 2012 to Galway by a few points - but it was a huge asset to us the following year, having been through it. People underestimate the value of that - it’d be massive for the squad, and for the whole county. Tipp are used to all of that, they’ve been a few All-Ireland finals at this stage.
“Also, in Tipperary the Mahers, Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan - they’ve been in games where they didn’t go well, but the learned from those and were better the next time.
“That’s experience. You can’t buy it, and you can’t underestimate it.
“If Cork are level with Tipp with ten minutes to go you could see the experience come into it then. One of the key Tipp players will be able to make a play to rise the crowd and the team because they’ve been through the same experience in the past.”
McGrath is worried that Tipp boss Michael Ryan has had the ideal tee-up in his side’s league final loss: “In 1998 we’d beaten Clare well in the league semi-final but they learned from that and put those lessons into effect in the championship against us. That’s what I’d be fearful of from a Cork point of view, that Michael Ryan has learned from their defeat to Galway last month.
“Everyone’s talking about how quiet Cork are, but Tipperary are quieter. I’d say training in there has been vicious, to be honest, since the league final. There’s that ‘old enemy’ thing with Tipp and Cork, and between the league final and the tradition, I’d expect a ferocious response from Tipperary this Sunday.
“A team with multiple All-Ireland winners, experienced, hurting from the league final . . . the cards are all in their favour.” Replicating Galway’s approach won’t work for Cork, he adds.
“Galway have huge men, they can dominate opponents physically. Cork aren’t like that. They have pace and wristy hurlers, and they need to play accordingly.
“As someone who never had any physicality when I was playing, my mantra was ‘take them on around the outside’.
“In 2012 Tipp outmuscled us in the championship, really, and some of our players should maybe have stayed away from that.
“If Cork deliver the right ball to the inside line, and if those players can get out in front - if they’re alive to what’s happening - then we have a chance. Getting involved in a dogfight won’t suit us.”
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