Which is the better scenario for an U21 team management perspective: having a host of senior players on your panel, as is the case with Waterford in this evening’s Munster U21 semi-final at Walsh Park (7.30pm), or having just a few (four), as is the case with Cork?
Certainly the former can put a damper on preparations, as admitted by Waterford manager Peter Queally. Some 10 of their starters have had senior experience this year in league and championship.
“We’ve had a poor run of results in the last six weeks and poor enough performances but there’s a big demand on a lot of our panel that are on the senior panel, it’s probably hard for them to chop and change and come back to us,” said Queally.
“Their main focus in the last two months has been the senior championship. It hasn’t helped preparations but it’s not something that we will offer up as an excuse, we’re just delighted to have all of these fellas available.”
Cork selector Alan Browne sympathises with Queally. “Look back to last year; when Cork were beaten by Tipperary at U21 the seniors had just lost the senior final to Limerick and six or seven of that senior panel were drafted in for the Tipperary game. They hadn’t played matches or been training with the U21s and that can work against you, that lack of interaction.
“Take out our four who are involved with the senior team [starter Alan Cadogan, panellists Killian Burke, Rob O’Shea and Cormac Murphy] and we’ve had a very tight group. It’s tough to get a full panel together but whenever we’ve had a session, there were no excuses ever made.”
Also counting as a positive for Cork is that the senior contingent aside, several others have already won a Munster medal this year with the intermediate team. Underage, though, is still the barometer, reckons Browne, pointing to the impact U21 success has had on Clare and Tipperary in recent years, on Wexford this year, even to the Cork team of his own day, the 1999 senior All-Ireland-winning team built on the success of the U21 sides of 1997 and 98.
“The Munster title wins at senior and intermediate this year is a big boost but underage is key. I can assure you the effort is being put in but I’m not sure why Cork haven’t been winning All-Ireland or even Munster titles lately — is it a failing in the system, or is that the players just aren’t there at the moment? Because the county has been scoured, anyone who could even hold a hurley at minor level was checked out and given an opportunity but we’re still not making that breakthrough. I believe though that on this panel, we have the best of what’s available to us.”
While Queally bemoans the lack of access to a huge chunk of his panel, it’s not as though Cork have had an enormous amount of time together either, U21 being a grade where between club, college, county, between hurling and football, between the different grades, every player is being pulled in several directions. It means then that tactics — on both sides — will be minimal.
Queally says: “We’ve had to keep it very simple. We’re not going to be trying anything extravagant or trying to introduce any master game plan. Tactics and formations can be overplayed at times — the bottom line in most of these games is attitude, application and work-rate.”
Browne says: “You’re not getting them together enough to go through a lot of physical stuff. You can do only basic tactics with them, it’s very hard to try and implement any kind of complicated game-plan.
“It’s not an innocent grade but it is pure hurling, fellas just going hell for leather. It’s not going to be easy for us, we know that, but the senior win was vital, a great boost.
“We had our final get-together last night before the match and there was a real buzz there.”
WATERFORD: S Barry (Lismore); K Daly (Dungarvan), T Bourke (Clashmore/Kinsalebeg), S Roche (Shamrocks); S McNulty (De La Salle), R Barry (Lismore), M Harney (Bonmahon); C Dunford (Colligan), G O’ Brien (Roanmore); J Dillon (c) (De La Salle), J Barron (Fourmilewater), A Gleeson (Mount Sion); D Breathnach (An Rinn), R Donnelly (Dungarvan), M Kearney (Ballyduff Upper).
CORK: P Collins (Ballinhassig); S Murphy (Blackrock), C Barry (Castlelyons), C Buckley (Na Piarsaigh); K Kavanagh (Carrigaline), K Burke (c) (Midleton), C Murphy (Mallow); D Brosnan (Brian Dillon’s), R Cahalane (Ballymartle); S O Keeffe (Blackrock), C Spillane (Castlelyons), M Collins (Ballinhassig); A Cadogan (Douglas), A Spillane (Castlelyons), R O’Shea (Carrigaline).
Subs: M Brown (Ballyhea), C Coleman (Ballymartle), P Fitzgerald (Douglas), M Sugrue (Bandon), K O’Connor (Mallow), M O’Connor (Douglas), K McIntyre (Carrigaline), A Dennehy (Charleville), E Smith (Blackrock).