The hard-earned win eked out by the All-Ireland U20 football champions Cork on their travels to Miltown Malbay on Wednesday night represented a real character builder ahead of next week’s Munster decider according to manager Keith Ricken.
Ricken heaped praise on his charges for putting a poor first half display behind them to grind out a two-point victory over a gallant Clare side.
Victory now sets up a provincial final date against Kerry on Wednesday night.
The champions were hit for two goals in the second quarter to find themselves trailing by 2-2 to 1-4 at the break, but bounced back on the turnover to record a deserved 1-12 to 2-7 win.
“I wasn’t happy with the performance overall, but we still won it,” said Ricken. “That was our first game together in about three or four weeks as the last few weeks they had been involved in championships in Cork, so it has been difficult, but the lads got the job done in the second half.
“This is still February. There is mud, there is heavy ground and you are up here in Clare against a good team.
“We had a four hour journey up here and we had to get organised and tuned in for a match after that.
“Guys were coming from Leaving Cert, pre-Leaving and exams. It’s all stressful, but it’s all good stress for the team if you are able to manage that. At the end of the day, they were able to get their thoughts together.
“That’s what you want young players to be able to do when it is put up to them. I was happy with that.”
The St Vincent’s man revealed that his side’s second-half turnaround when they hit seven points in the first 15 minutes to take control of the tie was inspired by the players themselves, just as the home side scented a first victory over the Rebels in the grade (previously the U21 championship) since their one-point victory in Kilmallock in 2002.
“We hadn’t harsh words, we had nothing harsh at half-time when we found ourselves behind,” he revealed.
“The lads had a chat among themselves. The whole purpose of this is they are trying to build their own character and solve their own issues.
“They caused the issues themselves in the first half when Clare got their two goals, but they went out and solved it and got over this game. I was delighted they performed when they really had to — they dug deep.”
Next Wednesday’s provincial decider has a throw-in time of 7.30pm in Austin Stack Park.