It might be 2014 since last Cork contested a Munster U21 final and a further seven years back since the provincial title was last captured, but given the recent success of the Cork U17s, minors, and seniors, there’s pressure on the U21s to continue what has so far been a pretty decent summer on Leeside.
Similar to Kieran Kingston’s side, the U21s open their provincial campaign away to the All-Ireland champions. But given John Meyler’s group contains a dozen members of the county’s Munster-winning senior squad, the pessimism which surrounded Cork’s trip to Thurles on May 21 won’t be found on the journey to Walsh Park.
“The expectation of delivering a performance is gone out the window and now people are expecting teams to win,” acknowledges Meyler.
“That adds its own pressure. Given the results of recent weeks, the expectation level is starting to rise. That can be dangerous. How you deal with that and handle that is far more important.
“The Cork public have been starved of it the last few years. They feel there is something there now. The style of hurling the minors and seniors are playing, the Cork people like that. They like speed and skill and teamwork. These are the hallmarks of what Cork hurling is about. People are seeing that. They’re enthused by that. They expect that from each team. The young fellas have been a breath of fresh air and they have to keep that going.”
From the Cork team which overcame Clare at Thurles last Sunday, Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Shane Kingston will feature here. Goalkeeper Patrick Collins, Chris O’Leary, and Robbie O’Flynn were part of the matchday 26. Sean O’Donoghue, Darren Brown, David Lowney, Michael O’Halloran and David Griffin are also involved with the seniors.
Added to the quartet who started all three of Cork’s Munster championship fixtures this summer, David Griffin, Chris O’Leary, and Robbie O’Flynn all received gametime during the league.
Goalkeeper Collins is another who has also played Division 1 league.
That’s a tidy catalogue of experience for an U21 team.
“The 12 lads have been in the senior environment since last October, November really. They’ve facilitated the senior squad in terms of matches and training. Out of that came the four lads to play senior,” says Meyler.
“When you have 12 in a senior setup, it is difficult to get your entire panel together at the one time. That creates logistical problems, preparation problems. Effectively, the senior U21s haven’t been with the U21s.
“The senior U21s couldn’t train with us because they were already training three and four nights a week with the seniors. You just have to overcome those hurdles and the lads outside those 12 have been really good. They deserve great credit for the effort they have put in.
“What we’ve had to do is tailor our schedule around the seniors. So, for example, during the spring, we played U21 challenges against Tipperary, Kilkenny, and Dublin on the same day that we were playing these counties in the national league.”
Given they wear the title of All-Ireland champions, you’d have thought most of the focus would have been on Sean Power’s Waterford. Cork’s rise, though, has eased pressure on the Déise.
Don’t forget, says Meyler, that the Waterford team for this evening’s semi-final clash contains seven players who started last year’s All-Ireland final. Included in that are Conor Gleeson, Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran, all three were involved in last Saturday’s extra-time qualifier victory over Kilkenny.
“Waterford will feed off the fact that it is less than a week since they beat Kilkenny for the first time since 1959,” says Meyler.
“Our guys are good fellas. They want to hurl for Cork. They’ve shown that in the three Munster SHC matches. I’ve no doubt all the other fellas want to hurl as well. They’ll have to hurl below in Walsh Park.”
B Nolan (Roanmore); D Prendergast (Lismore), C Gleeson (Fourmilewater), D Lyons (Dungarvan); J Henley (Tallow), C Prunty (Abbeyside), C Lyons (Ballyduff Lower); A Molumby (Cappoquin), C Roche (Shamrocks); J Prendergast (Lismore), C Curran (Brickey Rangers), S Ryan (De La Salle); P Curran (Dungarvan), S Bennett (Ballysaggart), P Hogan (Ballygunner).
P Collins (Ballinhassig); S O’Donoghue (Inniscarra), E Murphy (Sarsfields), D Griffin (Carrigaline); B Hennessy (St Finbarrs’), D Browne (Kanturk), M Coleman (Blarney); P Leopold (Sarsfields), D Fitzgibbon (Charleville); C O’Leary (Valley Rovers), D Dalton (Fr O’Neill’s), L Meade (Newcestown); R O’Flynn (Erin’s Own), S Kingston (Douglas), M O’Halloran (Blackrock).