It has been a long process for Cork minor hurling manager Pat Kenneally to finalise his championship squad and finally they open their campaign with a clash against Limerick at Páirc Uí Chaoimh tonight (7pm), with Kenneally outlining the selection system.
“We started with 251 players,” he says, “and had a few trials before November 1 to whittle that down to 50 so we could give those players programmes to follow.
“Since we’ve been allowed back in action on March 1, we played 10 games to get the squad down to 35 and then the last couple of weeks it’s been reduced to 24.
“We’ve been a bit unlucky in that four of our players have suffered shoulder injuries in the past while. But, that’s the game being played nowadays, there’s huge physicality, it’s a big change from the club games they’d be used to.
“Limerick are very strong, they have a couple of players who played U21 as 17-year-olds last year, and their schools have been doing well in the Harty Cup, whereas Cork’s haven’t.”
The ubiquitous statistic with Cork minor hurling is that it has been 11 years since the county last won an All-Ireland and, while it is not central in Kenneally’s thoughts, he knows improvement is required.
“It’s a fact, so I wouldn’t like to ignore it,” he says.
“At the same point there’s no point dwelling on it, you have to do something. Cork have only won one of their last five games in the Munster championship, but we’re hoping the development squads will start to bear fruit. But that’ll also be the case in other counties.
“We’d hope to be competitive and take it from there.”
Limerick beat Cork 2-14 to 0-12 at the same stage last year, and the Rebels have four players who were involved that night, Alan Dennehy, Killian McIntyre, Dillon Cahill and Pa O’Callaghan.
The Shannonsiders can call upon five of the Ardscoil Rís team which fell to Nenagh CBS in the Dr Harty Cup semi-final replay in Evan Fitzgerald, Barry O’Connell, Ronan Lynch, Kevin O’Brien and Cian Lynch. O’Connell, O’Brien and corner-back Shane Irwin all played last year.
Clare, going for a third provincial title in a row, go into their home clash with Waterford without Jamie Shanahan, who was a part of both of the previous wins, after he suffered a shoulder injury playing U21 for his club Sixmilebridge.
Captain Shane O’Brien, goalkeeper Eibhear Quilligan and Shane O’Donnell played last year, while centre-back Conor Cleary, wing-back Aidan McGuane and full-forward Conor Deasy are dual players.
In the other game, Tipperary will be strong favourites to defeat Kerry in Thurles.
John McGrath, younger brother of Noel, is in his third year on the team and leads the attack, and right half-forward Dylan Fitzelle and captain Bill Maher in midfield were part of the Tipp side which won last year’s All-Ireland minor football title.
Kerry cannot be written off, however, and will be powered by midfielder Daniel Collins, who scored 1-6 as Causeway CS beat Nenagh VS in the Munster Vocational Schools final recently.
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