Sean Hayes took Limerick for granted once during his tenure as Cork U21 football manager. He’d never be so foolish as to do it twice.
EirGrid Munster U21 FC semi-final
Cork v Limerick
Tonight: Pairc Ui Rinn, 7.30pm
Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare) (ET if required)
In March of 2015, the Cork U21s travelled to the Gaelic Grounds for a Munster quarter-final.
The U21 class of the year previous, also under Hayes’ guidance, had walloped Limerick to the tune of 16 points, while the Cork minors also hammered the same opposition — 6-15 to 1-7 — in the spring of 2014.
These two results lent themselves to an air of complacency in the Cork camp ahead of that quarter-final and the Treaty U21s very nearly pulled off a significant upset on their home patch, it finishing 5-8 to 2-12 in favour of the Rebels.
Hayes’s latest U21 crop begin their campaign this evening against a Limerick side which has claimed the scalp of Tipperary, their 0-16 to 0-14 extra-time win representing the county’s first championship victory at the grade in six years.
The Cork manager attended the game and was impressed by the winners’ coherency and counter-attacking style.
Central to that counter-attack are half-back Brian Fanning and half-forward Brian Donovan, both of whom have played Division 4 league for the county this spring.
“The hope is there that this squad would go a similar distance to last year’s team, but there are a lot of obstacles, starting with Limerick,” said Hayes.
“And were you to get over them, you are looking at a potential Munster final with Kerry. We’ll take the same approach as last year, where we won’t look beyond the first game.
“Two years ago in the Gaelic Grounds, we got out of Limerick by the skin of our teeth. Without doubt, I have to take the blame for that.
"I had seen them play us in the U21 the year before that, I had seen their minors playing and I took them for granted. They nearly caught us.
“I know Declan Brouder and he is a very organised and structured coach. We’re expecting a very big game on Wednesday. Tipperary got to an All-Ireland U21 and minor final two years ago.
"Limerick beat them so we have to take it that Limerick are a good team. They have a championship game under their belt and we don’t.
“The best structured and best-organised team won that quarter-final last week. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a team Declan is involved in.
"They played to their system and they are very good at it. They are defensively-minded and will try catch you on the break with a few very good forwards.”
Having been ratified by the board for the present season before a ball had been kicked in earnest last year allowed Hayes build a squad of players who would still be eligible for U21 in 2017; nine of the players who saw action in last year’s All-Ireland final tog this evening.
“Last year, if there were two fellas of equal standard, but one fella was underage the following year, you’d pick him so you’d have him trained for the following year. That is a help to us this year that we had these fellas last year.
“We [the management] could have walked away at the end of last year’s campaign. After losing the final, we were close enough to it, but, this being the last year of the U21 grade, it was easy enough to hang on for one more go.”
He continued: “John [Mullins], Gary [Murphy] and Sean [Powter] were with the seniors for their first two league games. At the end of the day, bringing the lads from U21 to senior is what it is all about.
"We’ve been lucky enough that since we took over the U21, about 15 of them have gone on to play senior, which means we’re getting them into the right frame of mind.”
Shane Kingston, who lined out at corner-forward on the Cork minor team three years ago, was approached to join the panel, but opted to prioritise his involvement with the county’s senior hurlers.
“Chris O’Leary and David Lowney were also asked in. They all committed to the hurling, which is their entitlement. Two of them are on the senior hurling panel and you can’t play both.”
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