It has been a hectic few weeks for Pat Ryan and his Cork U20 hurling panels. Not that he is complaining.
They began the month securing the delayed 2020 All-Ireland title. This evening — 18 days later — the class of 2021 make the short trip to Páirc Uí Chaoimh where they will play Limerick in the Munster final. Yesterday week, they came from six points down to claim victory over Tipperary in the provincial semi-final.
Four of the All-Ireland team lined out in that match in Thurles — Daire O’Leary, Ciarán Joyce, Darragh Flynn and Pádraig Power — plus Jack Cahalane and Brian Hayes who were introduced against Dublin in that long-awaited win.
Manager Ryan says with the quick turnaround they hadn’t a whole lot done together.
Nonetheless, a brilliant third quarter yielded the desired result.
“I suppose we were worried coming into the Tipperary game, it was the first time that team went out as a unit. We had a lot of fellas in different positions, positions they wouldn’t have played in that much. We were confident they could deliver and in fairness, they all stood up. It was a bit of a gamble but we knew they were all very good hurlers. When you have good hurlers, they can normally adjust. They played themselves into the game and it was better they were getting.
“We threw an awful lot of eggs in the basket with regard to winning the All-Ireland. We knew we would get a bounce off of that. Against Tipperary that came through in the second half, that spirit we have within the group. We would be hoping that would bring us on a bit as well for Wednesday night.”
The Cork boss admits he was impressed with Limerick’s 13-point semi-final victory over Clare.
“They have a lot of good players. They have a few of the seniors. I went up and watched them and they scored 1-27. They are playing very similar to the senior team, they use the ball well. They are big and strong. They are very well tutored and very well-conditioned. They will be huge opposition. A lot of them played against us last year in the Munster semi-final in the Gaelic Grounds (a game Cork won after extra-time).
“But we are just concentrating on getting our own fellas right. That is what we have done for the last 18 months, focus on ourselves. We are expecting a huge performance out of our lads. It will need to be.”
This is a crucial week for Cork hurling with teams participating at minor, U20, and senior.
“We are getting a bit of success at the moment and we are winning matches. There is a lot of work being done. At the same time, in a county the size of Cork, we need to be winning matches and bringing players through. It is going well but if the three of us get beaten this week, it will be a very unsuccessful year.”
Ryan is delighted to report a clean bill of health. In fact, and incredibly, they have had only one injury since training resumed. “We are very lucky. Our strength and conditioning, and our medical staff have done a fantastic job. Realistically, since we came back at the start of May, we have had only one injury. And that cleared up in four weeks. Listening to the horror stories in other counties and other clubs, that would be an anomaly around GAA circles. So, credit to our fellas and to the coaching staff. We haven’t overtrained fellas, and at the same time we are still trying to drive them hard.”
By John Fogarty
A real disappointment that only 500 supporters will be permitted in to watch what could be a provincial U20 final for the ages.
The lack of support may take away from Cork’s home advantage but then they will be the better off for their topsy-turvy duel with Tipperary eight days ago when they rocketed into life in the second half.
Limerick did all and more of what was asked of them against Clare and Adam English shows such potential that he could put in another high-scoring shift here.
Everyone knows the Cork forward line would be sharper but for the absence of a couple of players. Still, Robbie Cotter has a dynamite quality about him, Pádraig Power has a lot of poise for a big man and while Jack Cahalane and Brian Hayes have hefty workloads as dual players they boast enough talent to make distinct contributions towards completing a provincial U20 double.
So much will be decided by how the much-vaunted centre-backs perform. The more prominent No. 6 is likely to be on the winning side. The number of Limerick players training with the All-Ireland senior panel would point towards them being physically able to match a more battle-hardened Cork.
Also, Limerick U20 manager Diarmuid Mullins will have had a full week with his complete panel who were splitting between minor and senior county training commitments prior to the Clare game. A scorefest is anticipated, something that neither team will shy away from.
The feelgood factor emanating from both counties should also mean both teams come to Páirc Uí Chaoimh brimming with confidence, notwithstanding their own recent successes.
Extra-time can’t be discounted but Cork’s mettle has been tested and they can exhibit their resilience once again.
- Verdict: Cork.
A goalscorer against Tipperary, Sarsfields’s Hogan won’t need to score at all if he puts in a performance that occupies senior panellist Coughlan of Ballybrown, fancied by many to be a mainstay for Limerick in the years to come and who received some game-time in this year’s Allianz League.
It’s an evening when two of the country’s most promising defenders, Coughlan and Ciarán Joyce, are likely to have a major say in how the game goes and their markers have huge roles to negate their influence.
Coming off scoring 1-6 from play against Clare, a lot of Cork eyes will be trained in the direction of Doon man Adam English.
However, the real tussle is likely to be between the prodigious pair of Crecora-Manister’s O’Neill and Joyce, the young Castlemartyr man hailed by his fellow east Cork man Mark Landers on the Irish Examiner hurling podcast this week as “a Rolls Royce player” who observers have likened to Brian Corcoran at that time of his career.
Midleton’s Quirke, man of the match against Tipperary, was integral to their second-half comeback in the semi-final and his energy will called on again here as he and Brian O’Sullivan face the Limerick pair of captain Jimmy Quilty and Patrick Kirby, son of Limerick great Gary.
The distribution of Quirke into the inside line and his ability to jink passed opponents presents dangers to both lines. Neither Limerick midfielder is a slouch in the scoring stakes.
CORK: C Wilson, (Newcestown); E Downey (Glen Rovers), D O’Leary (Watergrasshill), C O’Brien (Newtownshandrum); E Twomey (St Finbarr’s), C Joyce (Castlemartyr), K Moynihan (Na Piarsaigh); S Quirke (Midleton), B O’Sullivan (Kanturk); D Flynn (Ballygiblin), D Hogan (Sarsfields), B Hayes (St Finbarr’s); R Cotter (Blackrock), P Power (Blarney), J Cahalane (St Finbarr's).
LIMERICK: C O’Neill (Ballybrown); C Thomas (Doon), P Harnett (Ahane), M Keane (Adare); E McEvoy (Na Piarsaigh), C Coughlan (Ballybrown), C Ryan (Doon); J Quilty (Blackrock, Capt), C Downes (Kildimo Pallaskenry); D Hegarty (St Patrick’s), C O’Neill (Crecora Manister), A English (Doon); B Nix (Newcastle West), A O'Connor (Ballybrown), R Fox (Ahane).