“Words can’t describe it. It was a great feeling. Hopefully it can spur us on now. It’s been a hectic few weeks but both managers have been very understanding, between Cork IT and the U21s. We’ve been in championship mode the last few weeks with the Sigerson and that’s going to keep going. The Kerry match is going to be as hard as all those Sigerson games.”
The U-21 grade has already paid a handsome dividend for McCarthy as he was part of the Cork panel that swept to All-Ireland success. But last March Cork were felled in the opening round against Kerry, and then had to watch on as their opponents careered all the way to the All-Ireland title.
“We were good enough to beat Kerry last year and you saw how good they were in winning the All-Ireland. It was just very disappointing. The way they played against the wind in the second-half against us, they were very strong running with the ball. We changed our gameplan in the second-half and stopped passing, instead kicking long ball and having shots from stupid angles. That cost us big time.”
For this batch of Cork U-21’s, there is also the scarring experience of their adventures at minor level in 2006. A campaign full of possibilities was terminated by Tipperary at the first hurdle.
“That day we just didn’t perform. Nothing went right for us, we only scored 2-6 I think. It just wasn’t good enough and none of us would be happy with that happening again. Our training now is a lot tougher. You’ve even bigger ambitions with your own age. It was a great feeling then in 2007 and we want to experience that again. We want to leave the U21 grade on a high. This is very important for the older fellas.”
The stakes are similarly high in the opposition camp with Kerry attacker Jamie Doolan maintaining that they hold high ambitions of building on last year’s heroics.
“Last year was a fantastic experience. The night in Thurles was a massive feeling. But every one in the squad is just as hungry as last year. The objective from our point of view is to do that again. We want to be successful and that starts now against Cork. We’re going well enough and hopefully we can produce the goods now. It’s obviously going to be a tough task especially going up there when they’ll have a big crowd behind them. It was tight for long stages last year but we came out on the right side of it. If we can do that again, we’ll be happy.”
Kerry’s victory in last year’s quarter-final halted a run of defeats to Cork at this grade that stretched back to 2004. They can still call on key men from last year with Tomás Mac an tSaoir in goals, and Shane Enright and Mike Moloney in defence. Obviously the input of senior men David Moran and Tommy Walsh will be critical in their respective sectors. The extent to which Moran controls midfield and Walsh thrives in attack will have a big bearing on the outcome of the game. Cork will be well aware of the need to nullify those threats, but Kerry have firepower elsewhere in the form of Gary Sayers and Barry John Walsh.
Injuries to Brian Lombard and Sean Kiely have robbed Cork of important figures, but there is still a good balance to their side. Centre-back Aidan Walsh was hugely impressive for the Cork minors last year, while he is flanked by excellent players in Conor O’Driscoll and Bart Daly. The attack bristles with scoring promise as well. Shane McCarthy and Colm O’Neill have documented their promise with Cork IT, David Goold is a good target man at full-forward and Ciarán Sheehan can caused havoc from wing-forward.
Traditionally games at this level have not been tight affairs and a repeat looks in prospect here. Kerry do possess the marquee names in Moran and Walsh, but if Cork can get a grip on them, they have enough ability in attack to post a winning score.
CORK (U21F v Kerry): D Farry; S McLoughlin, J O’Sullivan, N Galvin; C O’Driscoll, A Walsh, B Daly; C O’Donovan, K O’Driscoll; C Sheehan, S McCarthy, C O’Driscoll; C O’Neill, D Goold, P Honohan. Subs: B Walsh, L Jennings, R Buckley, D O’Sullivan, J Fitzpatrick, E Keane, M Collins, E Buckley, B O’Driscoll.
KERRY: T Mac an tSaoir; P O’Connor, Stephen Browne, S Enright; J Lyne, M Moloney, R Horgan; D Moran, S Hennessy; A Greaney, G Sayers, JB Spillane; A O’Donoghue, T Walsh, BJ Walsh.