In a Covid-19-free world, the Munster minor hurling championship would have thrown-in over the weekend, hurling’s latest batch of bright young things ushered into the championship arena at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Walsh Park. No more than the senior inter-county competitions, there’s a chance there’ll be no All-Ireland minor championship this year, meaning those 16 and 17-year olds we’d have been identifying as future senior prospects will have to wait another while yet before the opportunity is there to mark themselves out on the inter-county front.
Had the GAA calendar not been ripped to shreds, also torpedoing the Leinster MHC which was scheduled to begin on April 25, here are 10 minor hurlers we likely would have been talking about over the coming weeks.
Ben Cunningham (Cork)
The interest in Cork’s 2020 minor set-up has as much if not more to do with the man patrolling the sideline than it does the players inside the whitewash, Donal Óg Cusack wearing the bainisteoir’’s bib for the first time at inter-county level. Among the leading talents in Cusack’s panel is the son of the goalkeeper he succeeded between the sticks for Cork.
Ben Cunningham, as you’ve now guessed, is the son of Ger, but it is firing in goals, rather than stopping them, which preoccupies young Ben.
He was the standout player when the Cork minors overcame Wexford in a challenge game curtain-raiser before the Allianz League meeting of Cork and Limerick at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in late February. He struck 1-13 that afternoon, 1-6 from play. In last year’’s Cork U16 hurling final, he was responsible for two-thirds of St Finbarr’s 0-18 total as they overcame Ballincollig to take the silverware on offer.
Adam Hogan (Clare)
Full-back on the Clare minor team to reach last year’s Munster final and unlucky not to make the last four of the All-Ireland championship. Having won the Arrabawn U15 tournament two years ago (Hogan was full-back on that side), coupled with the fine showing of St Flannan’s, Ennis and St Joseph’s Secondary School, Tulla in the most recent edition of the Harty Cup, the Banner minors would have been quietly confident of again securing a top two place in the Munster round-robin.
Jack Leamy (Tipperary)
Clare beat Tipperary in the final of that aforementioned Arrabawn U15 tournament, with Jack Leamy the Premier captain. The Golden-Kilfeacle hurler was Tipperary’s top-scorer during last year’s Munster minor campaign, notching 1-26 (1-19 from placed-balls). Corner-forward in 2019, he’d likely have been moved further out the field and into a more central role for this year’s campaign. Another Tipperary minor to keep an eye out for is Jamie Duncan of Knockavilla-Donaskeigh Kickhams. He too was part of the 2019 starting team.
Ethan Hurley (Limerick)
One-third of the Limerick team which lost to Kilkenny in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final is underage again this year. Included in that is 2019 centre-back Ethan Hurley. He started each of the six championship games Limerick played last season and while the Newcastle West defender was stationed at centre-back for all bar one of them, his redeployment to full-back on the afternoon of their Munster final victory means he could fill either the number three or six shirt whenever the action resumes.
Shane Morgan (Galway)
Selected at full-forward for each of Galway’s championship outings en route to All-Ireland glory last year. Readers may recall the nasty injury he suffered during the semi-final win over Wexford, the game held up for several minutes late in the second-half as the Loughrea clubman was attended to. Earlier in that game, Morgan was redeployed to centre-back when Galway’s number six Ian McGlynn was sent off. It remains to be seen whether he’d have been stationed in defence or attack for the reigning champions. Irrespective, Morgan would have been one of the first names on the Galway teamsheet. Greg Thomas was beside him in the full-forward line last year and is another really exciting talent.
Cian Byrne (Wexford)
Part of the 2019 class which secured Wexford’s first Leinster minor crown in 34 years. Byrne came off the bench during the four-point provincial final win over Kilkenny and was again called down from the stand when eventual champions Galway brought the curtain down on Wexford’s campaign at the All-Ireland semi-final stage. The Fethard forward captained his club to Division 5 All-Ireland Féile glory back in 2017. If there is to be a championship in 2020, Byrne will be a central figure in Wexford’s Leinster title defence.
Mark Fitzgerald (Waterford)
Leading member of De La Salle’s Harty Cup team these past two seasons, an impressive feat when you consider he’s still U17 and the fact that Harty is now closer to U20 than minor when it comes to age eligibility. The half-forward from Passage started three of Waterford’s four games in last season’s Munster MHC, finding the target in two of them.
Colin Walsh (Cork)
The Kanturk youngster was a member of last year’s Cork panel. He featured in three of Cork’s 2019 Munster championship outings, starting the Round 2 draw against Limerick. He was stationed at half-forward that day, the same position he occupied during Cork’s challenge game win over Wexford earlier this year. A couple of days before said challenge, Walsh hit 2-5 from play as Coláiste Treasa Kanturk captured the Munster colleges senior C hurling crown. His cousin Tommy Walsh, younger brother of Cork senior Aidan, is also part of Cusack’s panel.
Patrick O’’Donovan (Limerick)
Our second Limerick pick, and another who will have benefited from being involved in last season’s Munster winning run. Started all bar one championship game in 2019. Provided the crucial goal on the afternoon of their Munster final win over Clare. Corner or full-forward is where management had him last year, and where he’ll likely take up residence if there is a 2020 minor championship.
Noah Quinlan (Laois)
Laois won four consecutive Leinster minor championship games last summer before falling to eventual provincial champions Wexford in the quarter-final. Noah Quinlan of Borris-Kilcotton was a member of last year’s starting team and is underage again in 2020. Getting back to the Leinster quarter-finals would have been a minimum target for a Laois side who two years ago - when U15 - overcame Wexford and Waterford to win the Arrabawn tournament Tier 1 shield final. Quinlan was midfield on that side, as he was the Mountrath Community School team which contested this year’s Leinster colleges senior B hurling decider.