Young Rebels facing into toughest task

FOR sheer entertainment value, it’s difficult to match the heights that the Cork minor footballers have scaled this season.

They enter tomorrow’s ESB All-Ireland MFC final against Tyrone in Croke Park at 1.15pm on the back of a series of phenomenal revivals. From their opening day out in Ennis in April, Cork have perfected the art of the comeback and their refusal to collapse when all seemed lost has underpinned their summer adventure.

In their Munster opening round against Clare, Cork reeled off four injury-time points to win by three, a last-minute goal by Brian Hurley snatched the provincial spoils from Kerry in July and Stephen O’Mahony bundling home an injury-time goal to knock out Armagh by the minimum in the quarter-final.

Their most improbable comeback of all saw them pip Galway by a one in the semi-final after staring at a nine-point deficit in the last quarter.

Tyrone boss Raymond Munroe has observed their progress and is greatly impressed. The Red Hands staged their own great escape in the semi-final against Mayo, when they outscored the Connacht team by 2-6 to 0-2 in the last 18 minutes to secure a three-point win.

“It leads to an intriguing final in that Cork have showed similar characteristics to us. We eventually got the players on the field against Mayo that could change the game. They never gave up. At a stage, I thought all was lost on the sideline. Certainly when Ryan Devlin’s goalbound shot was blocked, I thought that was the bit of luck we would have needed to take the game with Mayo. But in the end, maybe a bit of luck did come our way.”

Prior to that, Tyrone had been in dazzling form and were anointed by many as this year’s All-Ireland minor champions. Their play sparkled, particularly when they hammered Armagh by 12 points in the Ulster decider and Kerry by eight points in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Munroe admits that talk is an unwelcome distraction that they must deal with.

“We were here in ‘08 so we’ve been down this journey and we’ll tell them of the pitfalls. I think they learned for themselves in the All-Ireland semi-final. Before the game they were written up in the press that nobody was going to touch them this year. For 40 minutes they were relying on those headlines until they realised it’s a lonely place out there. You have to go work for yourself and there’s no press to help you play out your game.”

Both teams have shaken up their starting sides for tomorrow’s game. Cork’s team has undergone an overhaul from the Galway clash with three alterations to their defence and Dan MacEoin drafted into their attack. Tyrone have made just the one change in personnel with Colm Spiers replacing injured keeper Mark McReynolds.

Cork have a number of players in strong form like centre-back Tomás Clancy and influential midfielder Damian Cahalane. Corner-forward duo Brian Hurley and Kevin Hallissey signalled their offensive intent after registering a total of 3-7 between them against Galway.

Tyrone have a few brilliant talents in Richard Donnelly, Conor Clarke and John McCullagh, while Dara Donnelly is a serious option to spring from the bench after scoring 1-1 when introduced against Mayo. But it is Tyrone’s exceptional corner-forward Ronan O’Neill from Omagh that Cork must carefully police. He was key against Mayo with a superb 1-4 haul and it will be interesting to see who Cork detail to watch him. The match should generate competitive fare yet in a tight call, Tyrone’s greater consistency entitles them to the favourites’ tag.

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