Cork U20 football manager Keith Ricken has been “blown away” by the attitude and positivity of his charges.
The county’s U20 outfit open their Munster campaign with a home semi-final against Waterford this evening (7pm), what will be the first inter-county championship fixture played in Clonakilty since the late 1930s.
Ricken was a late appointment to the post of U20 manager, assuming the reins in late January following the resignation of Gene O’Driscoll a fortnight earlier.
There was a small bit of catch-up to be done during the spring as other counties were well into their preparations when the Cork bainisteoir’s bib changed hands, but what was a significant help, said Ricken, was the application of the panel the new management put together.
"I’ve experienced nothing but positivity. The young lads are delighted with the honour and chance to play for Cork. They have been fantastic,” said Ricken.
“The evidence over the last couple of weeks and in the John Kerins Cup is that these lads are doing well. I have been amazed by the maturity levels of this group in recent months. They’ve come on in leaps and bounds both personally and physically, and in a footballing sense too, I hope. I hope they can express that in Clonakilty.”
The Cork team named yesterday evening contains three players - Maurice Shanley, Colm Barrett, and Damien Gore - who began last year’s Munster final defeat to Kerry. Nemo’s Mark Cronin was used as a sub in that fixture and he is named at corner-forward here.
Gore played Division 2 league for Cork earlier in the year but an ankle injury derailed his aspirations of championship inclusion.
“What we are trying to do is help and facilitate the production of footballers for Cork,” Ricken continued.
“You love to see these lads going up. It is never a case of who is the senior management looking at now.
"He has rehabilitated and is finding his form again with us.”
The Déise have named an unchanged side from the team which scored a surprise 1-10 to 1-9 quarter-final victory over Clare last week, the county’s first championship win at this grade in 13 years.
Included in this are dual players Sam Fitzgerald, Dan Booth, Billy Power, Brian Lynch, Sean Whelan-Barrett, Tom Barron, and Mark Twomey, this group of seven figuring againstTipperary in Tuesday’s Munster U20 hurlingsemi-final.
“We weren’t surprised to see Waterford beat Clare. They have a very good middle eight, big strong men who play hurling and football.
The standard of club football in Waterford is very high and that has transferred over to this team. We won’t be taking them lightly.”
On management’s decision to nominate Clonakilty as their home venue for the semi-final stages, Ricken, who is the GAA development officer at Cork IT, added:
“It was always one of my ideas that Cork should try and vary where they play their matches. Bring football to where the heartland of football can, at times, be, and not just in the city.”