A bualadh bos to both Brian Cody and Kieran Kingston who at various junctures this year have been at pains to emphasise how young their teams are.
But this isn’t the high jump and in the end there can only be one winner of the youngest team in next Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final.
Before we reveal the results, a reminder of how each of them did their best to remind people that their teams have been a work in progress. Speaking after the Leinster final win over Dublin, Cody emphasised: “We have a very, very young team, a very, very young panel. There’s no doubt about that. We have some obviously top-class experienced players there as well. We should be competitive at all times and that’s what we are at the moment — competitive. Nothing guarantees success but the first thing you have to be is competitive.”
Kingston was speaking along similar lines having seen his tyros see off Clare the Saturday before last. “There was a lot of uncertainty coming into it from our point of view. We were apprehensive as to how that would work out. Relief is number one but fierce proud in the way the lads reacted and the character they showed for basically a very young team.”
Following this past weekend’s victory against Dublin, a second SHC win on the bounce, the first time Cork have managed to win two knock-out games in a row since 2016, he was more casual in his analysis of his team: “We’re not there yet but we’re not miles away from the finished article.”
Cork may not be as youthful as Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s class of 1999 when the average age was 22 but at 24.4 the team that started against Dublin was over half a year younger per man than the Kilkenny side that began the Leinster final win over the same opposition (25.1).
Subtract Patrick Horgan (33) and Seamus Harnedy (31) from the Cork team (a thought that would have the team’s followers running for cover), replace them with the terrific 20-year-old pair of Shane Barrett and Alan Connolly and the average age drops below 23.
It’s striking that after Harnedy, Seán O’Donoghue at 25 is the oldest Cork starter whereas in Kilkenny TJ Reid (33) is followed by Eoin Murphy (30), Pádraig Walsh (29), and Richie Reid (28).
Kilkenny’s youthful complexion can’t be dismissed but they can call on Cillian Buckley (29), Walter Walsh (30), and Richie Hogan (33 this Sunday) from the bench.
Kingston can also spring experience, introducing Bill Cooper (33), Alan Cadogan, and Colm Spillane (both 28) but without Eoin Cadogan (35 next month) and Damien Cahalane (28) there isn’t as much wiliness.
Kingston’s comment on Saturday evening that “Kilkenny are Kilkenny, Croke Park is their home really” would have been dismissed as a further attempt to take pressure off his players. But the truth is less than half the team Cork fielded in the quarter-final against the Cats there two years ago are likely to begin on Sunday. For Robert Downey and Ger Millerick, their inter-county experiences in Croke Park amounted to the 2017 All-Ireland minor semi-final and finals, Downey operating at the other end of the field at full-forward in the defeat to Galway in the decider.
Downey was an unused substitute when the counties met at GAA HQ two years ago, as was Patrick Collins and Jack O’Connor. Robbie O’Flynn and Tim O’Mahony did make contributions off the bench but their experience of the venue compared to Kilkenny is scant.
That factor and their inexperience in general masks the genuine chance Cork have of beating Kilkenny. Ruthlessness is an attribute neither group yet possess and both have zoned out of periods of games, especially Cork in third quarters, which Kingston has rightly highlighted as a mark of an evolving team.
However, Cork’s pace should be even more of an asset in Croke Park, they look to be more fearless than their opponents too.
At the same time, largely due to the presence of Harnedy and Horgan whose 3-10 wasn’t enough to stop Kilkenny two years ago, theirs is a considerably older attack (26) compared to Kilkenny’s (24). That pair bring much-needed sense. Not surprisingly, it was they who kept Cork ticking over on Saturday when Kingston felt the team had become complacent as a result of their eight-point half-time lead.
Twenty two years ago, Barry-Murphy allowed himself a rare exclamation after seeing off a far older Kilkenny team under Cody.
“A lot of us laid to rest an awful lot of ghosts out there. I’ve been tempted to say this all year: We haven’t gone away, you know.”
The ghosts have since returned and this time there is more of them. Until such time as he emulates his great friend, Kingston won’t indulge in making a similar comment but regardless of what happens on Sunday Cork aren’t going away.
Maybe Liam Cahill will be staying on with Waterford — the county executive are sure to be keen on retaining his and Mikey Bevans’s services — but speaking so freely about Tipperary after beating them would have raised an eyebrow or two.
“Tipperary hurling at senior level is probably at a big crossroads now because there are a number of players there that have maybe big decisions to make over the next number of weeks,” he said.
As a man who has brought All-Ireland glory to the county on three occasions as a manager and as proud a Tipperary man as they come, Cahill was entitled to give his opinion. However, the timing of it a week out from an All-Ireland semi-final with Waterford was, well, interesting.
Just as noteworthy was his comments after the defeat to Clare in June when he seemed to be staking his two-year term on the line in the qualifiers.
“I’ll be rewarding any player that puts their hand up over the next fortnight or three weeks for a qualifier because at this stage I’ve nothing to lose.”
Cahill has shown he is not afraid to make unpopular decisions in both Tipperary and Waterford but were the comments about the state of hurling in Tipp a statement of his intent should Liam Sheedy chose to step down and the Ballingarry man is approached to succeed him?
What he has achieved with Waterford has been nothing short of impressive, guiding a team who hadn’t won a game in two years to six wins in nine SHC outings and dismissing the idea they were in transition.
It’s the type of job many in Tipperary would like to see him repeating closer to home.
There was no David Bowie on the PA to greet Dublin back out on the pitch in Sunday’s Leinster final.
Not that they needed it but Croke Park seems to have sat up and taken notice of what some fans in Meath interpreted as favouritism towards the champions in what is supposed to be a neutral venue.
Just before the throw-in against Kildare, word came through on the GAA website that the winners of the game would face Mayo on Saturday week (6pm).
On one hand, the victors would only have 13 days to right themselves for a Mayo team who will have had an extra seven days’ rest.
On the other, the expected winners Dublin would have their by now usual Saturday evening slot.
All four of Dublin’s All-Ireland semi-finals have been played on Saturdays since 2018 when the two games were first played over the same weekend. Prior to the introduction of the Super 8 that year, from 2010 to ‘17 seven of Dublin’s eight All-Ireland quarter-finals were staged on Saturdays.
“There will always be an appetite to have a game on a Saturday night and a Dublin game is generally on a Saturday night,” explained GAA president John Horan in 2019 when the decision was taken not to hold Cork’s Super 8 game against Dublin and senior hurling quarter-final against Kilkenny as a double-header.
Bringing one team (Mayo) instead of two (Kerry and Tyrone) to Dublin for a Saturday evening game makes sense but so long as Dublin are winning the perception they have it cosy in Croke Park is a hard one to shift.