Sean Hayes: U20 final ‘an opportunity to put some pride back in the Cork jersey’

With the Kerry senior, minor, and junior footballers already having done the business, it is left to Jack O’Connor’s U20s to complete a clean sweep of provincial crowns.

Sean Hayes: U20 final ‘an opportunity to put some pride back in the Cork jersey’

With the Kerry senior, minor, and junior footballers already having done the business, it is left to Jack O’Connor’s U20s to complete a clean sweep of provincial crowns.

Were the hosts to prevail in this evening’s Munster U20 final at Austin Stack Park (7.30pm), it would represent the second consecutive summer — but just the third since 1997 — where Kerry won all four Munster titles in the one year.

For Sean Hayes’ Cork U20 side, the task is to avoid becoming the fourth team from the county to fall to Kerry in the space of two months.

Hayes says the recent string of Kerry triumphs over Cork, including last Saturday’s one-sided Munster senior final and Wednesday’s junior decider, has lent itself to a healthy kind of pressure being put on his players.

“It gives you another focus, reinforces that you are playing for your county,” said Hayes, who also doubles up as a selector on Ronan McCarthy’s backroom team.

“The U17s were unlucky, the juniors were unlucky, and so, outside of the senior game, we have not been that far behind Kerry at the other grades.

“We’re trying to buck the trend of recent meetings. We have an opportunity to put some pride back in the Cork jersey. That is our biggest challenge.”

No more than Jack O’Connor’s criticism before Kerry’s championship opener, the Cork boss isn’t on board with the new challenge game ruling which prohibits county teams from playing one another from Thursday to Sunday inclusive.

“You might play a club team, but you’re not playing a Mayo, Roscommon, Galway, or Dublin. These are the teams which give you a better indication of where you are. We didn’t have that this year with the rule and that does affect your preparation.

“I know our lads are better than their overall performance against Clare last time out. I do honestly believe the players we have are very good. We’re hoping we’ll perform to the best of our ability in Tralee, which, in my opinion, will be good enough, if we do perform like that.”

On the Kerry side, there’s no player who has lost a championship game to Cork — the Kerry minors had six to spare over the Rebels in 2016, that figure was 10 for the 2017 Kingdom class. Manager Jack O’Connor, though, doesn’t see complacency being an issue this evening.

“We’ve nothing to be complacent about. Our record against Cork at this age-group has been very poor. We haven’t beaten Cork at home in a Munster [U21] final since 1999. That’s a long, long time ago. We hadn’t beaten them above in Cork for 20 years until last year.

“I always have maintained that Cork do have an advantage preparation-wise because the majority of their players are in college in either UCC or CIT. Our players are in five different locations, as far away as Dublin. It can be hard enough to get fellas together during the college-year.

“We feel this Cork side are very dangerous. We saw them against Tipperary and if they get it together, they have serious firepower.”

Kerry weren’t exactly put to the pin of their collar en-route to the decider, overcoming Limerick and Waterford by 28 and 30 points, respectively. The ferocity of their internal training games and competition for places, according to Kerry selector Eamon Whelan, compensated for those two pointless outings.

“We had some outstanding A v B games, really tight, where there wasn’t a kick of a ball between them. There’s huge competition within the panel and all the players know that. That’s not there as a frightener for them — they just know themselves that that level is there.”

PaperTalk Munster final podcast with Anthony Daly and Ger Cunningham

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