EirGrid U21 Munster Championship Final
Cork V Kerry
First things first, Sean Hayes doesn’t see this Kerry team as being unbeatable.
Tonight: Páirc Uí Rinn, 7.30pm
Referee: Alan Kissane (Waterford)
TV: www.tg4.ie live stream
An obvious sentiment, you’d have thought, but given the hype surrounding this Kerry team, there was a need to ask the question.
Indeed, if the Cork U21 manager was paying heed to everything being said about Jack O’Connor’s team, not to mention the betting odds, which have the Kingdom as 11/10 favourites for All-Ireland glory, then he’d reach the conclusion that his own crop didn’t stand much of a chance in this evening’s Munster final.
Hayes, though, knows no team is unbeatable, even if said team is of such strength that two players who’ve seen game-time for the Kerry seniors during this year’s league — Barry O’Sullivan and Conor Geaney — are unable to garner a starting berth.
He also knows what his own crowd are capable of, pointing to their against-the-odds victory behind enemy lines in last year’s provincial decider.
Both teams for this evening’s contest contain eight players who featured in that 2016 final at Austin Stack Park, so it’s not as if these Cork footballers haven’t before stood toe-to-toe with Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Tom O’Sullivan, Killian Spillane, and company.
“Our goal is to get back to the All-Ireland final,” stressed Hayes. “We beat Limerick in the first round and now we have to beat Kerry if we are to reach that goal.
"They are the team in our way and we have to get over them. Whether 10 or 20 of them played last year in Tralee, it doesn’t matter. We are going to go out with our 15 players this year and will use the experience we have gained along the way.
"It will be a challenge to get over what is a very good team. I’m not afraid of the challenge. I know my players are not afraid of the challenge. We have the experience of winning and we have to drive on with that.”
Jack O’Connor said in Tuesday’s Irish Examiner this was a game he and his players had been eyeing up for 12 months. They’re clearly still smarting from the 3-9 to 1-14 defeat.
In terms of motivation, they’re pretty much sorted. As for Cork, what can management pull from said fixture?
“We’re just taking the same approach. Kerry came into that game having won two All-Ireland minor titles in a row and their team was highly rated. It is more of the same this year.
"They are coming in with three All-Ireland minor titles this time. We have two U21s won in Munster and we want to win a third. That is our goal.”
Does it suit Hayes and his players that the spotlight is focused on the opposition?
“Whether it does or not, the facts are the facts. They’ve won the last three All-Ireland minor championships. They’ve some very good players. Brian Begley, Tom O’Sullivan and a few more have played senior.
"They’ve a few who’ve played Sigerson. They can afford to leave Barry Dan O’Sullivan and Conor Geaney on the bench, which is a great sign for them. They are a very good team. No-one is unbeatable, though.
“It will be a huge challenge to beat them. That is what football is all about. If you are playing underage for Cork, your dream is to play Kerry in a Munster final. The fact that they are a good team makes it more exciting. It throws out a bigger challenge.
“The players know each other because they are all in college together, between UL, CIT, and UCC. Nothing can be thrown at you that you’re not expecting, because everyone knows everyone. Knowledge is a good thing.
“At the end of the day, it is what the fella produces during the hour he is out there that is most important. My attitude is you do the best you can and, when you look in the mirror after you’ve come in, that you’ve given it everything. Hopefully, when we do that it will be good enough to get us over the line.”
This will be Hayes’s fourth time facing the Kingdom during his spell in charge. They’ve come out on top in the previous three meetings, one of which — the 2015 Munster semi-final — was played at Páirc Uí Rinn. He’s not sure home advantage will count for a whole pile come 7.30pm.
“Looking at Jack O’Connor’s comments in the paper, it is obviously hurting them a bit that they haven’t won in Cork [in 20 years]. To us, we want to keep that tradition going.
"Preparation and game-wise, it doesn’t make a huge difference; we travelled to Tralee last year and won. When you cross the line, those things go out the window.
“It is great to be at home and Páirc Uí Rinn does hold great memories for Cork at this level. The advantage of being at home, we’ll take it, but winning is the important thing.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved