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Cork dynamo Mark Coleman with Wexford's Seamus Casey. Coleman dictated the pace of the game yet again, initially at midfield before dropping deeper. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Cork dynamo Mark Coleman with Wexford's Seamus Casey. Coleman dictated the pace of the game yet again, initially at midfield before dropping deeper. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

The U21s' swashbuckling brand of hurling thrilled the Cork faithful once more

THESE young Cork hurlers are an absolute joy to watch.

Apart from the sight of Declan Dalton being carried off with a knee injury in the second half, the U21s’ demolition of Wexford was a shot of adrenalin after a week picking through the wreckage of the seniors’ loss to Limerick.

That a clutch of the panellists from the premier squad was in electric form at this level made the victory even sweeter.

Granted, Wexford were shorn of Rory and Joe O’Connor through injury, and there’s no question this All-Ireland semi-final would have been highly competitive if they were fit. By the same token, they’d have to be some stick men to have changed the result.

Tim O’Mahony was a worthy TG4 Man of the Match for his display, spearheading the attack at full-forward, but there were other viable candidates, including Dalton until his unfortunate withdrawal.

Tim O'Mahony. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Tim O'Mahony. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Like O’Mahony his size made him a beacon for long deliveries and Wexford couldn’t handle him at all.

Mark Coleman purred in the engine room before a switch to centre-back. His reading of the breaks and coolness in possession continues to astound.

Shane Kingston had the swagger you associate with a marquee inter-county forward. At senior he can appear unsure. Not on this occasion. All four of his points were sublime.

Likewise Sars’ Jack O’Connor, who also jinked clear to the tune of 0-4, six days after scoring his first senior championship point in Croker, while wing-back Billy Hennessy and keeper Ger Collins added to their growing reputations.

Sub Conor Cahalane was the MVP in the second half, coming off the bench in the 35th minute, and ending the game with four points to his name.

All four were gems, particularly the last score deep in added time, given how deftly Collins picked him out with a floated long ball over the Wexford half-back line for Cahalane to run on to.

Conor Cahalane scores a point. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Conor Cahalane scores a point. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Darragh Fitzgibbon and Robbie O’Flynn failed to score, which was surprising, considering Cork’s haul was 3-26, but they worked tirelessly and made countless runs off the ball. They completely hurled for the team, which isn’t always easy when you’re coming down from the senior ranks to U21.

A Fitzgibbon rasper ended with O’Mahony burying the rebound, while O’Flynn had four assists and excelled in the air.

Collectively Cork’s skill, speed, touch, support play, aerial ability and drive left the Leinster runners-up trailing. Just like it had against Tipp in the provincial final.

Granted Waterford rattled them in the Munster opener — the Déise probably did enough to deserve to pull off a huge upset back in June — but since that scare, these Rebels have comfortably worn the mantle of favourites.

Whoever emerges from Wednesday’s Tipp-Galway clash (probably the Tribe) will be underdogs in the All-Ireland final on the last Saturday in August.

It shouldn’t impact on this group, because their attitude is absolutely spot on.

It helps too that the management team, led by coach Denis Ring, coach John Dwyer, and selectors Liam Martin, John Mortell, and Fergus Ryan stepped up to U21 after four years at the helm of the minors. They know these players and this group respects them hugely.

Billy Hennessy in action. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Billy Hennessy in action. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

They’re hurling for the pride of Cork but also for each other. That was evident in the hooking, tackling and work-rate even the scoreboard indicated this game was long over as a contest.

If you want to know how committed to the cause of hurling this crew are, on Friday evening John Dwyer was about to watch Inniscarra and Ballincollig’s U11s play a challenge match. Short a referee for one game he volunteered to fall in.

With a three-week gap to the All-Ireland, Cork will finally have the opportunity to train collectively for what is a huge game. As enjoyable as the wins so far have been, a defeat on the big stage would represent nothing short of a disaster given the talent available.

Dalton’s absence would be a genuine blow, but there is a real depth to the panel, with Cahalane an obvious contender to start the next day given how well he’s performed in every outing.

Last year’s outstanding minor forward Brian Turnbull, recovering from a cruciate, could come into the mix to make the squad.

The experience of the build-up to last year’s All-Ireland minor final, and the lessons learned in defeat, will hopefully ensure Cork perform on August 25. If they do it’ll take some showing to stop them collecting the Rebels’ 12th U21 All-Ireland crown and ending a 20-year wait for glory.

Ger Collins saves a shot. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Ger Collins saves a shot. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton