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Cork captain James Masters battles with Mayo's Dermot Geraghty in 2000. Picture: Kieran Clancy.
Cork captain James Masters battles with Mayo's Dermot Geraghty in 2000. Picture: Kieran Clancy.

Countdown to the minor All-Ireland: James Masters provides a link to the last victorious Cork football team

CORK minor football selector James Masters was the last Rebel captain to lift the Tom Markham Cup when he led them to All-Ireland football glory in 2000.

The young Rebels defeated Mayo to capture their 10th All-Ireland minor football championship title. Since that success, they have only contested one All-Ireland final, the 2010 defeat to Tyrone.

This year’s talented crop are bidding to secure All-Ireland final glory when they play Galway on Sunday.

Masters has great memories of their win in 2000.

“I have great memories that will last a lifetime. It was a great season. Being involved with the Cork minors this year has brought some of those memories back,” revealed the former ace footballer.

Cork’s failure to add more minor All-Ireland football championship titles to their roll of honour is hard to believe given the success the senior footballers have achieved since then and the plethora of talented footballers the county has produced since 2000.

Master, who is also involved with the Cork ladies footballers, is hopeful the recent upturn in underage football within the county will be further strengthened by a morale-boosting win on Sunday.

“It is extremely hard to believe. A minor (title) is well overdue in Cork. There is great work being done at underage level at present and a win would be massive for Cork football.”

Picture: Ray McManus/ SPORTSFILE
Picture: Ray McManus/ SPORTSFILE

The victorious Cork side in 2000 contained a very strong playing squad, full of talented players who overcame Kerry to win the Munster final following a thrilling encounter. They subsequently defeated Derry and Mayo to capture the title following an absence of seven years.

Masters lists their character and team unity as key factors in their success.

“We had a lovely balanced team. Conrad Murphy was probably the only major star, but we had a massive work ethic and people that worked extremely hard for the greater good of the team. We had massive characters on the team who got on great, both on and off the pitch. They were all very down to earth players.”

He was also one of their marquee players. The Nemo corner-forward played a pivotal role in helping them secure All-Ireland glory.

“I was lucky that Nemo won the county minor championship in 1999 and I was playing midfield. A year later I was selected as captain as a result. It was a great honour to captain the Cork minor team.

“We had a team full of leaders which made my job easier. It was knockout back then, so every game was extremely important which added to the thrill and buzz of the campaign.”

Teddy Holland was Cork manager of a team that also included the likes of Noel O’Leary and Kieran ‘Hero’ Murphy.

“We had a good set-up and it got better as the year went by. Teddy had a great management team with him also and we had done a lot of work that year very early on, which was a huge help to us as the season progressed.”

His experience as a player and captain of the last successful Cork minor football team is invaluable.

“The players are bound to be nervous. Anyone going out to play in an All-lreland final would be. I was captain which probably made me a bit more nervous.

“I am confident that the semi-final win against Mayo will prove very important as it will give the lads great confidence going into the final.

“They will all be nervous in the lead-up, but that’s completely normal. This year’s panel are extremely talented, but more importantly they are willing to work so hard and that’s been the difference.

Bobbie (Dwyer) and the lads have done great work with them.”

Picture: Denis Minihane.
Picture: Denis Minihane.

The U20 footballers memorably lifted an All-Ireland recently. Masters is hopeful, irrespective of the result, players will continue to progress, develop and fulfill their potential.

“I think a few of the minors will go all the way. I just think it is important to make sure none of the lads that don’t make the U20 team slip through the net as that would be a shame. It is important to bring them all along and make sure we have the depth going forward.

“The last few months have been great for Cork football. There is so much talent in the county. It is important that this last few months is a stepping stone for the years ahead.”

Masters and his minor colleagues are forever etched in Cork GAA folklore following their success in 2000. He is hoping this year’s minors will enjoy their own glory in Croke Park.

“Hopefully they will go out and perform. This is their time.”

Nemo's James Masters picking up the ball as he is chased by Ballincollig's John O'Brien and Brendan Fitzgerald in a minor final. Picture: Richard Mills.
Nemo's James Masters picking up the ball as he is chased by Ballincollig's John O'Brien and Brendan Fitzgerald in a minor final. Picture: Richard Mills.