Tuesday’s Munster U20 final defeat to Tipperary was another disappointing day for Cork hurling. On the back of the seniors recent loss to Kilkenny, another narrow loss — similar to the 2017 All-Ireland minor final and last year’s
All-Ireland U-21 final — could be described as a worrying trend for Cork hurling teams.
On the other hand, there is no comparison to be made with this U20 side and the senior team.
The U20s showed the heart, spirit, courage, and conviction that too many of the senior players didn’t show against Kilkenny.
With seven of the U20 starting team underage again next year, a sizeable chunk of the squad are good enough to come back and win the All-Ireland.
Most importantly of all though, a number of those players are good enough to be Cork seniors in the coming seasons.
Cork may still not be winning hurling All-Irelands but the game is thriving at underage levels.
That was never more evident back in March when 7,089 spectators turned up for the Dr Harty Cup final between Midleton CBS and CBC.
The B final which preceded the match was also an all-Cork affair between St Francis College Rochestown and Hamilton High School Bandon.
It was the first all-Cork Harty Cup final 1994. Midleton’s win secured a first title for a Cork school since 2006. CBC were the big story but a thriving underage hurling culture in Cork was the real story. Because players from Killeagh, right through the city and extending out to Bandon, were on show that afternoon in Páirc Uí Rinn.
A few years back, it would have been more unrealistic than idealistic to believe the most successful schools rugby side in Munster history, with 30 titles, could become a serious force in the Harty. Yet CBC certainly have.
It’s been a spectacular cultural shift but the most successful shift from rugby to hurling has taken place in Limerick. Ardscoil Rís may not have had anything like CBC’s history of rugby success but a traditional rugby school has become a hurling institution, winning five Harty titles this decade.
A Croke Cup (All-Ireland) has always been viewed as the school’s destiny but Ardscoil have fallen at the hands of St Kieran’s College Kilkenny in each of those seasons — 2010, 2011, 2014, 2016, and 2018.
Three of those defeats came in finals but Kieran’s won the All-Ireland in each of those five seasons they took out Ardscoil, all of which were narrow wins.
Ardscoil just haven’t been able to crack Kieran’s.
Ardscoil were Harty champions in 2014 and 2018 when Kieran’s came through the back door — having failed to win the Leinster title — to take them out.
Ardscoil were installed as favourites for the All-Ireland in February 2018 when they hammered a highly-rated Midleton CBS in the Harty final. Ardscoil scored 3-18 in that decider. St Kieran’s only hit 1-11 in their Leinster final defeat to Dublin North.
Kieran’s scraped over the line against Gort in the All-Ireland quarter-final but their performance rose to new levels in the semi-final when beating Ardscoil. Again. And Kieran’s went on to win the All-Ireland. Again.
A clear rivalry between the schools has developed, albeit its one which has been dominated by Kieran’s, but the strong link between those Colleges’ games will be fully evident again in this evening’s All-Ireland semi-final.
From those four meetings between 2010-’16, up to 15 former Ardscoil and St Kieran’s players could line out in Croke Park.
Ardscoil have been desperate to succeed at a level which is just the norm for St Kieran’s.
They top the All-Ireland roll of honour with 23 titles but their dominance has been unprecedented during this decade with seven titles — 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019.
The most titles the famed college had won in a single decade before was four, which they managed in the 1990s.
The hurling cultures in both schools have continued to thrive but Kieran’s dominance has been all-consuming. When the sides met in the 2016 All-Ireland Colleges final, Ardscoil’s Peter Casey — who plays today — was the highest profile player on the pitch.
A starter on the 2015 victorious Limerick U21 team, Casey had scored 0-3 for Na Piarsaigh in their All-Ireland club final 10 days earlier against Cushendall.
St Kieran’s though, nullified Casey, who failed to score. “Kilkenny teams just strip you down and make you look so ordinary,” said Niall Moran — a former Limerick player and a driving influence in shaping the new culture in Ardscoil — a few months after that game.
Casey and Limerick also discovered as much in the 2014 All-Ireland minor final when a hotly fancied Limerick team were turned over by Kilkenny.
Yet when the counties met in the 2017 All-Ireland U21 final, Limerick had clearly made up huge ground.
Limerick dominated the match, winning by six points. This was clearly a new breed of Limerick player, many of which featured on the side which defeated Kilkenny in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final.
Kilkenny no longer hold the same fear in the minds of Limerick players anymore. But the memories of those heartbreaking Ardscoil Rís defeats to St Kieran’s have never left the strong cohort of former Ardscoil students in this Limerick squad.
Those painful reminders will drive them on again today. And for as long as they keep running into Kilkenny.