FINALLY and thankfully, the inter-county hurling season gets off the ground in Munster this weekend with two Cork teams going into the arena.
The minors are out first, today in Thurles against Clare and on Monday night the U20s against Kerry in Tralee.
Both are knockout games, lose and months of preparation will count for nothing. In both instances, there is optimism that Cork can have two rewarding campaigns while at the same time taking nothing for granted.
In both instances, there are strong backroom teams with a number of former stars putting their shoulder to the pump.
It’s a well-documented fact that Cork have not had the success that might have been expected from the county at these levels, going back to 2001 since the last All-Ireland minor crown was won and three years further back since the All-Ireland U21 title was annexed.
Where the U21s were concerned, that great Sarsfields club man Bertie Óg Murphy was at the helm in 1997 and 1998 when he brought two titles to Leeside and now another Sars great, Pat Ryan will be hoping to travel that same successful route.
He has put together a very strong backroom team of Wayne Sherlock, former senior selector with John Meyler, Donal O’Mahony, Fergal Condon, who led Imokilly to three county titles and Brendan Coleman from Youghal who played senior with the county.
When you look at some of the players at their disposal, the likes of Daire Connery, Tommy O’Connell, Conor O’Callaghan, Brian and Eoin Roche, Padraig Power, Shane Barrett, and so on, you would have to believe there is a very solid base.
The recent form of Power and Barrett with Blarney in their Cork County PIHC success is encouraging while Connery is getting training time with the seniors.
Ciarán Joyce from Castlemartyr has been in sublime form in his club reaching the Cork County LIHC final with Russell Rovers and there appears to be a good blend to the team.
With respect to Kerry, they will be strong fancies to come out of Austin Stack Park with the win and more formidable hurdles will have to be overcome but there are grounds for optimism with this squad.
It’s very much a similar story with the minors with former Cork great Donal Óg Cusack having his first shot at inter-county management.
And you’d travel a long distance to find a keener student of the game or a better motivator.
He has two former greats, Sean Óg and Tom Kenny on board with him on his management team as well Ian Lynam who is vastly experienced with the Glen and Cloyne clubmate Killian Cronin among others.
This is what Cork hurling at all levels requires, former star players of a more recent time getting involved.
Young players will look up to and want to do well for these fellows, try to emulate what they achieved in their careers.
And the hope is that more of them will become involved going forward.
No county has a divine right to be winning trophies but in a county of Cork’s standing and tradition over the past 20 years or so there should have been a better return from the minor and U21 grades.
Going back to the U21 teams of 1997 and 1998, they were the launchpad for the successes of the seniors in 1999, 2004 and 2005.
You need success at those levels to be successful at senior and that has been proved time and again in other counties.
A good working relationship between the various management teams is very important too and that seems to be very much the case in Cork right now from Noel Furlong with the U16s, on to Cusack, Ryan and to the senior set-up under Kieran Kingston.
Co-operation and a good working relationship never did anybody any harm.
Of course, it will be different this time for the minors and U20s insofar as they’ll be playing with no support forthcoming from the stands.
That may or may not have an impact and it could even take some of the pressure off them.
Conversely, support can drive a team over the winning line but as in everything else this year, it’s the same for every team going out in search of glory.