Seán Hayes closes in on rare medal double as Cork U21s go for glory

If Seán Hayes can guide Cork to victory in Saturday’s EirGrid All-Ireland U21FC final against Mayo in Cusack Park, Ennis (6pm), he will complete a rare double.

In 1981, he captained the Rebels as they beat Galway to retain the title. While captaining and managing successful teams would be nice, though, the experience from back then is only of value in terms of a ball-hop in the dressing room.

“It was good,” he says. “We had lost to Down in 1979 and then beat Dublin in ’80 and then beat Galway after a replay in ’81 – in Ennis as well, by the way.

“It doesn’t make a difference – Jesus, that’s… 10 (laughs) years ago! It is a kind of a slag all the time, that I’ve the medals and nobody else has, but that’s about all it is.

“Every year is a different year, you’ve different fellas with you and different fellas out there. The game has changed and the attitude has changed.

“We used to enjoy ourselves when we won games, but it’s a different game now! It’s a help and it’s something for them to aim for, but that’s all it is really.”

Mayo stand in Cork’s way, seeking to achieve a double of sorts themselves – the westerners were the All-Ireland minor champions three years ago, and have impressed in getting to the final. Hayes makes the point Cork’s Munster final win came against a Kerry side loaded with players who won minor medals in 2014 and ’15, and, in any case, Tyrone (minor 1998, U21 2001) were the last to do such a double.

“We played Kerry, who had players who had won minor All-Irelands two years running, and we still beat them,” he says, “so it’s what confidence you have in your ability, this year and this year only, which is what matters.

“I was told recently the last team to win the U21 which had also won the minor three years previously was Tyrone, and that was way back.

“It’s not a common occurrence or anything like that. We’ll be going out playing them Saturday with our team against their team, that’s the way we’ll be facing it.”

Cork began their campaign by seeing off Clare and Waterford, before having to grind against Kerry and then Monaghan. Hayes admits, at the outset of the year, there was a feeling there was a good chance of an All-Ireland tilt.

“I suppose we knew we’d get to the Munster final, anyway,” he says.

“We were hoping we’d beat Clare and Waterford and then Kerry in Tralee was always going to be a challenge, with Jacko [Jack O’Connor] involved and all that kind of stuff.

“Once you got over that, you’ve a great chance. We beat Monaghan, I know it was only two points but I felt we were better than them. Now we’ve Mayo and it’ll have to be the same on Saturday.”

Cork’s scoring prowess is primarily built on the powerful full-forward line of Brian Coakley, Peter Kelleher and Michael Hurley. Hayes admits the ball could go in quicker, but there are external factors dictating that.

“That’s probably a truth, but they’ve all done well and all got scores,” he says.

“In saying that, a lot of teams have been playing an extra defender in front of Peter Kelleher, so you can’t be throwing balls in in front of him, they won’t get to him. It’s a 15-man game, you have to play it the way you see it and play it to the fellas in a better position whether it’s the full-forward or corner-forward or centre-forward.

“That’s the way it has been working and hopefully it’ll work one more time on Saturday.”

Kelleher was the only U21 player to feature regularly in Cork’s Allianz Football League campaign, and that too was a help in team-moulding.

“Only Peter and Stephen [Cronin], and Kieran [Histon] to a lesser degree, have played senior football for Cork. Other years you might have four or five, so that does make a difference.

“We’ve been together a lot more all through the year playing matches when we didn’t have guys playing senior. We didn’t have very many playing Sigerson either, that was a help to us in the long run. We’ve grown well together as a team and hopefully that’ll stand to us.”


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