Rebel magazine foretold a bright future for Cunningham in the forwards

Rebel magazine foretold a bright future for Cunningham in the forwards

Cork’s Ben Cunningham is tackled by Ian McNamara of Clare. He led the way for the Cork minor hurlers in Thurles. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

BACK in the mid-1990s, Cork County Board produced a periodical magazine, Rebel, for younger supporters.

It wasn’t the most comprehensive production, but it was a worthwhile effort and, given that there was little else out there for fans of primary-school age, it was certainly useful.

Perhaps it was a pity that the idea came at a time when Cork hurling was in the doldrums — Kerry was the only county defeated in the championship from 1993-98 inclusive — and Billy Morgan’s era with the footballers was coming to an end, with a transitional period about to begin before things picked up under Larry Tompkins.

Nevertheless, there was enough to keep the reader occupied. We recall a competition in 1995 to design a new Cork jersey (and remain bitter that none of our six entries came anywhere near winning) while the regular player profiles gave nuggets that you wouldn’t find elsewhere.

One was with goalkeeper Ger Cunningham, who revealed that his favourite position was full-forward. While such ambitions had to be limited to low-key run-outs with St Finbarr’s, such dreams may be about to realised in a different way. Last year, Cork U16s won their national tournament, under the management of Jamie Wall, while the B team was stacked with players full of potential too, and Ben Cunningham — son of Ger — led the way on the scoring front.

Ger Cunningham out for a puck with his sons Ben and Sam. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ger Cunningham out for a puck with his sons Ben and Sam. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

That year was a breakout one for Cunningham, as he was immense in the U16 P1 county final when the Barrs beat Ballincollig. 

Already this year, he was a leading light as St Finbarr’s ended a 23-year gap for a top-tier county minor hurling title — and bear in mind that, at club level, minor is still the ‘old’ U18 — while he was integral to Cork’s win over Clare in last Saturday’s Electric Ireland Munster MHC quarter-final.

Mark Coleman and Conor Lehane are notable examples of players who struggled to make an immediate impact at underage inter-county level, but they did not let it be a terminal impediment. The progress of such players should be an inspiration for youngsters who might feel that they are missing their chance.

Alex Quirke and Eoin Downey were also key for the Rebels on Saturday, and victory over the Banner gives them a semi-final clash with Limerick in 10 days, while Waterford face Tipp in the other semi-final at Páirc Uí Rinn on the same evening.

With the minor championship back to the knockout format — assuming that it can be played out — there is an extra edge to the games, and it reduces the margin for error, but coming through it on the right side will be a huge boon for the players involved.

Hopefully, Dónal Óg Cusack’s Cork can have a long and successful campaign, but of course the elephant in the room will have a role in deciding whether any team enjoys All-Ireland glory in 2020.

After Cork’s impressive win over Louth in Division 3 of the Allianz FL on Saturday, manager Ronan McCarthy wasn’t engaging in over-optimism, and it was hard to blame him.

In the weekend just gone, Leitrim weren’t able to fulfil a fixture against Down, while a decimated Fermanagh went to Clare with a skeleton panel and the inevitable defeat relegated them.

If things do continue, the prospect of a forfeited championship game will be ever-present — imagine if it were to happen in the latter stages of the All-Ireland.

McCarthy and the Cork football team were planning as if things would continue, with an away trip to Longford up next, but he was well aware of the possibility of things being upscuttled.

“I don’t envy the GAA hierarchy,” he said. “They’re in a difficult position because the games mean so much to people and yet really you have to ask yourself the question about the risk involved.

“No matter what call they make they’re not going to do the right thing.”

McCarthy is certainly right that there will be criticism towards the GAA no matter what happens — it’s human nature to question things, and an untested alternative will have the benefit of not being proven inadequate.

By the time you read this, things may have all been called to a halt anyway, but hopefully a workable solution can be found.

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