Seventeen years later

Cork was doubly represented in the Croke Park finals of 1993, but though the minor footballers brought home the bacon, the graduation to senior level was poor. One of Cork’s forwards that day is determined to ensure the present crop of minors do better. Fintan O’Toole explains

BRIAN Cuthbert can recall the events of September 19, 1993, with revealing clarity. The grey clouds that hung over Croke Park, the star-studded Meath minor outfit vieing with them for All-Ireland honours and the expectant Cork football supporters packed around the ground awaiting double glory. The seniors’ dreams of success were soured by Derry but the Cork minors claimed an improbable win over Meath and Cuthbert alighted the steps of the Hogan Stand to raise the Tom Markham Cup aloft.

“It was the highlight of my career so I wouldn’t be forgetting it in a hurry,” says Cuthbert. “I still don’t really know how we managed to win it. I read Trevor Giles in the paper recently talking about how seven of that Meath side went onto win All-Ireland senior medals whereas we’d a team of fellas who were over 14 stone. But it was an amazing day to be up in Croke Park, captaining your county to an All-Ireland win. The seniors losing was a downside to the day. Coming home you didn’t know how you could celebrate when so many Cork people were disappointed.”

Seventeen years on to the day Cuthbert returns to the All-Ireland minor stage in Croke Park. This time he is directing operations from the sideline as Cork minor manager. This may be his freshman season on the inter-county plinth but he has done the rounds at underage level with Bishopstown to develop his managerial acumen.

“Being involved in an All-Ireland final is a massive deal for me. I was a Cork minor selector the last two years and that was a very good experience to prepare. My first coaching stint would have been when I was in college in Mary Immaculate at 19; there was no one to take the Freshers team, so I took it over.

“I fortunately got a teaching job at home in Bishopstown so it was natural to start coaching teams in the club.

“I’ve absolutely loved this year. It’s been a big learning curve. having to deal with the pressures that come for the lads with CAO offers, Leaving Certs and debs. I’m 35 which is twice the age of the players but at the same time I’d be younger than a lot of the coaches they’d have in their clubs. With minor players it makes a big difference if you can relate to them, but that comes down to personality more than age. This group? Nothing seems to bother them. Maybe that’s just the way of modern young fellas. They all did unbelievably well in their Leaving Cert and considering they’ve been training so much you’d wonder how they managed that.”

Cuthbert is aware of the bigger picture as the clock ticks down to Sunday. The lack of senior progress by the 1993 minors gnaws at him, with Martin Cronin and Owen Sexton the only exceptions, though a serious car accident did hinder the development of Castletownbere’s Alan O’Regan. Cuthbert’s basic ambition is that the current minors are still kicking ball when they are finished with the underage grades.

“The big thing for us is that all these guys stay playing. Most of us were very big guys in 1993 so we probably struggled with the training after. We want to be successful this year, but regardless we’ve had three days out in Croke Park this year. There’s five or six guys there that John Cleary might look at straight away for the under 21s next year and there’s a whole panel who’ve had a year training at inter-county level. They can go back to their clubs a better class of a player.

“We decided at the start of the year that we’d literally trawl the county for players. We had a very good inter-division trial system and the cream came to the top. It’s absolutely huge for these small junior clubs like Gabriel Rangers, Glengarriff and Kilmichael who all have players involved. We’re involved for the betterment of Cork football.”

The Cork players will certainly end this campaign enriched by dramatic and colourful experiences. Their campaign has been stockpiled with terrific revivals, characterised by their stunning fightback to defeat Galway in the semi-final. Cuthbert admits they cannot be faulted for entertainment but acknowledges that their season has been sprinkled with good fortune.

“We’ve been incredibly lucky this year and we have to admit that. Three one-point wins in a row and you’re wondering what’s going on. I wouldn’t like to say that the Cork minors have contributed to the health of Cork football. But if these players could sustain their current progress for the next five years, then you could say we’ve done a good job.

“Since the Galway game, I can’t get over the amount of people who’ve come up to me on the street and said that was the best they’d seen in a long time for pure entertainment. From where I’ve been on the sideline it hasn’t been what I’d call entertainment. A lot of it is that you’d two teams who play a very open style of football and people found it really enjoyable to watch.”

Cuthbert has kept a close watch on the seniors’ progress this summer with a keen interest on how Jamie O’Sullivan and Ken O’Halloran fare. “They were in primary school when I started teaching there. I’d have coached both in the club and played with both before I finished up.”

The capabilities of Sunday’s minor opponents Tyrone have been well flagged this season and they represent formidable opponents.

“They’re a super team,” admits Cuthbert. “They unleash guys off the bench that would be on most teams in the country. They can really up the gears when needed and they’ve some marquee names. Ronan O’Neill at corner-forward is a superb talent. But look we’ve nothing to fear.”

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