Integrating younger players into the Cork senior hurling set-up is one of the big challenges facing manager Kieran Kingston.
The Tracton man points out that changing the U21 grade to U20 means some players “may not be ready” for senior action when they leave that grade.
“There’s an integration process like a mini-development squad between your U20 grade and your senior team.
“We have a good few of last year’s U20 team and the year before’s U21 team on our panel, giving them the best opportunity to compete at senior level, because there’s a quite a gap for a 19-year- old and jumping up to senior straightaway.
“Some will come through quicker than others. Obviously you have your core squad and you have players then within that who are part of a development squad as well.
“For us as a management team it’s important when you expose players to that level (NHL) they’re as ready as we can possibly have them, that they put themselves in the best position to be competitive or to put in a performance. That’s not simple all the time.”
Kingston acknowledged Tipperary’s success bringing through younger players last year: “When the (younger) lads were coming in, they were coming in with games wrapped up, to a degree, and it’s obviously easier to come into game when you’re way ahead.
“They did it very successfully last year and didn’t really start any of the All-Ireland winning teams of the previous two years, U21 in 2018 and U20 in 2019; they integrated them as they went on, which is obviously an ideal scenario.
“A few years ago we threw in lads a bit younger and maybe that’s created an expectancy, that you do that all the time. It’s great when they’re mentally and physically ready for it, but if not it’s how you develop that mental and physical capacity to make sure that when you put them in they’re in the best position to express themselves.”
On the other hand, younger players can have more college commitments — there are 14 Cork senior panellists with UCC alone — or, in the case of Declan Dalton, a long club season.
“You’d sit down with fellas who’ve had a long season like that. The same with Darragh Fitzgibbon when Charleville made the intermediate final last year — the senior intercounty scene went to August, the U20s made the All-Ireland final... so that was a full year without any break and that was challenging for young lads.
“On the other hand, they love hurling and they love playing games — maybe more so than training — so it’s the balance between protecting the loading of the lads as they develop while letting them express themselves and enjoy it at the same time.
“The down side is a lot of their loading is in the winter months, in tough conditions with a lot of games. The fixture list is a challenge, but look, it’s a challenge for all of us.”
Cork begin their league campaign Saturday away to Waterford having fallen away disappointingly to Limerick in the Munster SHL final.
“It served us well up to half-time in the league final,” said Kingston of the provincial competition.
“It gave us a chance to get some game time into some players who went out of the club championship in July, early August, and it also gave us a chance to look at some of those lads the from the U20s and give them some game time at senior level, to give them some experiences at that level
“At half-time against Limerick we were fairly competitive but irrespective of what personnel were on the pitch that night you couldn’t say anything but we were extremely disappointed with the second half performance.
“At the end of the day we still had 15 Cork hurlers on the pitch and we’d have expected a better reaction than what we got in the second half.
“Our performance was not at a level you would expect.” Achieving a higher level of consistency is something Cork are looking for in the NHL, he added.
“It might be perceived as a secondary competition but I think it’s important for us. The way we’ll be looking at it it would be yes, we’ll utilise it as best we can to give as many players on our panel as much game time as we can, to prepare us as a group for the challenges ahead in a few months’ time.
“But also I think it’s very important that we’re consistent in our performances throughout the league.
“That’s something I would be looking for from us as a group, from the players and from us as a management group, that we are consistent irrespective of the result.
“Let the result take care of itself, it’s important we start building a consistency in terms of our performances. That’s something that this team has been criticised for over the last while and that’s the number one objective in the league.”
Does the lack of titles in Cork create pressure for the players?
“It probably doesn’t for the players themselves,” said Kingston.
“It probably causes more pressure from the media and the supporters in general, but I think the current players have got used to dealing with that.
“While we haven’t had a national title at senior level you have to admit as well that we’ve been quite competitive for the last number of years. We played in an All-Ireland U17 final and won, U18 and lost, we lost an U21 final... it’s disappointing to lose those but it’s still good to be getting there, to be challenging.
“At senior level 2013 is the only time we’ve been there (final) since winning in 2005, which isn’t an ideal scenario, but I don’t want to be talking about All-Irelands.
“We’re starting fresh. We’re at a base, as people saw in Limerick, with a huge amount of work to do.”