Cork star Stephen Cronin unhappy with removal of U21 grade

Win or lose this evening in Ennis, Cork's Stephen Cronin will be part of EirGrid U-21 football championship history though not for any reason he's particularly happy about.
Cork star Stephen Cronin unhappy with removal of U21 grade

This will be the penultimate U-21 final before the tournament is wound up after 2017 and replaced with a lower key U-20 developmental competition from 2018, a decision taken at February's Congress.

It's an attempt to both clear time for club activity and to reduce the burden on young players who are regularly dragged this way and that by various teams during their late teens and early 20s.

Nobody asked Cork captain Cronin if he'd like to get rid of the competition though and if they had he'd have told them no.

"I think changing it to U-20 is a massive thing, it's probably taking it out of the limelight as such," said Cronin. "The U-21s, playing it at this time of the year, it's alongside the national league but moving it to U-20s and saying also that a lot of your best players won't be available if they've already played senior is a big one.

"It just seems to be putting the competition on the back burner when maybe it shouldn't be. The U-21s has always been a celebrated competition. It's always been about free flowing football, there's no mass defences to it as you saw from the two semi-finals.

"That just shows what the teams in all four provinces are bringing to it but obviously the people in Croke Park think that it's best to do it and maybe so. Maybe they know better."

Cronin turns 21 later this year so his time at the grade is up. He'd love to sign off on a memorable note and become a footnote in history as one of the last captains to raise the cup.

That would have seemed like a pretty fanciful notion only months ago when the Nemo Rangers man was sitting on a pitch after a club game against Clonakilty last August with a fractured tibia and fibula.

He has spoken already about the long road back and how he beat the odds by returning ahead of schedule though, initially, it wasn't certain there would be a road back to travel. For a while, he feared it was game over.

"Genuinely, I wasn't too sure," the half-back said. "I suppose some people kind of said, 'yeah, you'll get there' and other people said, 'I don't know'. It varies and you hear the stories about fellas who never play again and then you hear stories of fellas who came back from similar injuries in five months.

"There was the New Zealand guy who broke his leg and was back in a matter of weeks for the Rugby World Cup. So you see stuff like that and you have to take encouragement from it too."

Cronin is able to run fast and free now. Inside his leg there remains a steel rod with four screws. There were two more but they were paining him and had to come out. The full rod will be removed in November. For now, his bionic leg is next to bulletproof and, who knows, it might just help him when they face a Mayo side with real pedigree.

Cork have shown plenty of class too, particularly in the Munster final against Kerry when they held their nerve to snatch the winning point two minutes into injury time.

"I suppose our season hinged on that game," said Cronin. "We knew playing against Clare and Waterford that there were going to be tougher tests ahead. Playing against Kerry, we knew it was make or break for our season. They were seen as out and out favourites. They've won the last two minor All-Irelands but thankfully we came through it and Cian Dorgan hit the last minute point. But yeah, that was kind of the big one for us.

"Surprisingly enough, and we were talking about it afterwards, there was fierce calmness there. They got a goal, there couldn't have been any more than six or seven minutes left and then they got it back to a point and then level.

"But there was never any big shouting or giving out. It was very calm. It was a very strange one for us. Looking back on it, we found it very strange that we were so calm because usually you'd be going manic. I suppose we probably just had confidence in ourselves, that was the big thing, and we had confidence in each other also which is a massive thing."

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