A few of the older patrons in the South Stand in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last night may remember the old Buddy Starcher classic ‘History Repeats Itself’. And, had they also been in Thurles last Sunday, the song must surely have resonated with them as this Munster U21 hurling semi-final unfolded.
Again, a fancied Cork team made hard work of it against the underdogs from the East before ultimately prevailing, but on this occasion, the carrot of two more games in the competition would have made Waterford’s disappointment all the more pertinent and their journey back beyond Youghal that little bit longer.
Cork have produced a number of impressive underage teams over the past few years and few were as full of promise as this outfit when they were minors. However, wides were to undo them in the Gaelic Grounds and the drought continued.
The drought has only increased the longing in Cork, as was best showcased when 10,000 souls came out to see the minors last summer.
There wasn’t nearly that many there last night but still, the local enthusiasts were keen to see were there any more players coming off the conveyor belt, any more players to get excited about, any more signs that the drought may be coming to an end. To tell the truth, they’re probably desperate for any sign they can get that the tide is turning.
But really, what last night highlighted more than anything else was the crazy schedule that players of this age must endure. For Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman, and Shane Kingston, this game arrived hot on the tails of the toughest four weeks of hurling they’ve ever experienced. And 10 days before the Munster final against Clare.
As for the other senior panellists who played — Robbie O’Flynn, David Griffin, and Jack O’Connor — it must have been difficult to try and create a chemistry with players and friends that they haven’t seen very much of over the past six or seven weeks.
Ultimately these competitions are there to develop players and one must ask what purpose do they serve for the player who, for want of a better term, has already made it? It’s even more relevant when you consider that this Saturday night, David Clifford and Mark White will line out for Kerry and Cork in the Munster SFC final and, therefore, are unavailable for their respective U20 teams.
It makes sense. As well as giving more players more chances, it also protects the players from burnout while also reducing the pressure on them to try and please all masters. How many players have fallen to the wayside over the years because they got too much too young?
Waterford didn’t have the same array of senior talents at their disposal and throughout most of the encounter they reaped the benefit of having played and prepared together. Their interplay was sharp, their energy was high, and they played with great spirit and determination. They’d plenty to play for too, with Derek McGrath’s departure from the senior scene making Waterford the centre of the hurling world this week.
Whoever replaces the Mount Sion man will have seen plenty of talent to be nurtured too with Andrew Casey, Darragh Lyons, John Paul Lucey, and veteran U21 goalkeeper Billy Nolan to the fore throughout.
However, in the end it was Cork’s senior players who made the difference, in spite of their recent travails, as they combined for eight second-half points between them as opposed to the two they mustered in the opening period. Coleman, Fitzgibbon, and Kingston are established but, encouragingly, O’Flynn showed up well on his return to action after his serious injury against Clare.
As for new blood? Well, Liam Healy was a constant menace, Billy Hennessey continued from where he left off last year, while Leaving Cert students Ger Collins and Daire Connery made their bow at the next level and looked comfortable.
What did we learn about the future from the night? Nothing and everything, really. But it’s hard to argue with Buddy Starcher; history does repeat itself. And no matter what happens at underage level, you can’t be certain when it will come around again. Only hope that it’s sooner rather than later.
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