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Fionn Herlihy buries the second goal. Picture Denis Minihane.
Fionn Herlihy buries the second goal. Picture Denis Minihane.

Beating Kerry with style and aggression, the Cork U20 brand of football is a joy

MAKE no mistake about it, Cork football needed a Munster title.

After going oh so close in the senior and minor finals, silverware rather than a good performance, was going to be the only barometer of success at U20 level. 

Picture Denis Minihane.
Picture Denis Minihane.

That these Rebel young guns did it was a swagger and style you'd normally associate with the Kingdom made it a glorious triumph. Keith Ricken's charges moved with pace and purpose and their decision-making was largely spot on, running and recycling when required, landing long deliveries into their deadly inside line when space opened up.

It was a knockout game, with the old enemy Jack O'Connor on the line, which added to the sense of occasion. That this outstanding effort came in the wake of the seniors' run to the Super 8s, added to the growing hope that Cork football has turned a corner. 

No one should get carried away, given Kerry still secured three of the four provincial trophies this summer, and their schools and clubs continue to reign supreme too. However, this is a win well worth savouring.

Picture Denis Minihane.
Picture Denis Minihane.

The last time Cork battered Kerry at U21, in 2011, they'd a team anchored by Young Footballer of the Year Aidan Walsh, Damien Cahalane and Tom Clancy with a half-forward line of Mark Collins, Ciarán Sheehan and John O'Rourke. This group are far less heralded which arguably makes their achievement all the more special.

Mark Cronin was selected as TG4 Man of the Match after curling over four smashing first-half points which helped Cork lead 0-10 to 0-6 at the break but there were a host of alternatives. Cathal O'Mahony was deadly too, 1-5, all bar two from play and even those frees were beauties. 

Damien Gore did less damage on the scoreboard but his ball-winning and movement show why he was in Ronan McCarthy's set-up earlier in the league. That he's not involved now made him available at U20, with Cork profiting from David Clifford's rapid elevation to the ranks of marquee Kerry forward.

Even without him to keep tabs on, the Cork backs were immense. Gearóid O'Donovan was a wing-back warrior in the first half, Paul Ring extremely tenacious at corner-back and Maurice Shanley, at three, and Josh O'Keeffe, in goal, minded the house like gardaí on commission for every arrest.

Brian Hartnett sweeping from midfield when Kerry were attacking was a help, but all the backs were dogged. Michael O'Mahony, Seah Meehan and captain Peter O'Driscoll, whose fist pump to the crowd after O'Mahony's goal made it a rout summed up the mood at Páirc Uí Rinn, didn't give their markers an inch.

Further up the pitch, Colm Barrett made an endless series of unselfish moves but also chipped in on the scoreboard. Daniel O'Connell was everywhere from midfield. The return of Colm O'Callaghan from a cruciate added heft and cuteness at wing-forward.

Colm O'Callaghan scoring a point. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Colm O'Callaghan scoring a point. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Blake Murphy came on before half-time and showed the ability that made him an international basketballer and U17 All-Ireland hurling medalist as well as a majestic footballer. His father John Paul was, and still is, a fantastic forward with St Vincent's, and Blake took his goal so cooly, as well as kicking a point and snaring two kick-outs. 

Blake Murphy grabs a kick-out. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Blake Murphy grabs a kick-out. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Sub Fionn Herlihy and O'Mahony finished their goals devastatingly too and it was inspirational to see Cork going for the jugular.   

Massive credit has to go to Ricken, a Sigerson winning manager in CIT, and his selectors Colm O'Neill, Mícheál Ó Cróinín, Pat Spratt and Maurice Moore. They took over a group who had suffered at the hands of Kerry at short notice, blended them in the John Kerins' Development League and then ripped it up on the big stage.

Keith Ricken after the victory. Picture Denis Minihane.
Keith Ricken after the victory. Picture Denis Minihane.

Tyrone await in the semi-final. To a degree Cork are in bonus territory but they should go full tilt for the All-Ireland.

On the evidence in Páirc Uí Rinn they're good enough to beat any team.