Cork U20 hurling management have no shortage of championship options 

Cork U20 hurling management have no shortage of championship options 

Blarney forward Padraig Power gathers the ball from Castlelyons Niall O'Leary in the Co-Op Superstores PIHC final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

IN a matter of weeks, the Cork U20 hurlers commence championship action, yet picking the likely starting team is extremely difficult at this point.

Manager Pat Ryan, along with selectors Wayne Sherlock, Donal O’Mahony, Brendan Coleman and Fergal Condon, will be looking to go one better than the past two campaigns, which saw Cork lose two All-Ireland finals at this grade.

Logically, you would expect this U20 team to be backboned by the All-Ireland U17 winning side from 2017. That team was Eoin Davis; Eoin Roche, Ciarán Nyhan, Ronan Sheehan; Cormac O’Brien, Conor O’Callaghan, Aaron Walsh Barry; Daire Connery, Seán Twomey; Brian Roche, Declan Hanlon, Tommy O’Connell; Blake Murphy, Joe Stack, Colin O’Brien. Subs: Ronan McCarthy for Cormac O’Brien (temp 23-30), Owen McCarthy for O’Connell (35), Shane Barrett for Murphy (53).

It is hard to tell how good an underage team is at the time, but three years of hindsight would suggest that they won that All-Ireland for a good reason. A lot of the panel are starring at senior level now, and most are in contention at this grade this year. It is worth noting that the likes of Shane Barrett, Shane O’Regan, Jamie Copps and Owen McCarthy were only subs on that side that beat Dublin 1-19 to 1-17 in the 2017 final.

Shane Barrett of Blarney and UCC has been on form lately. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Shane Barrett of Blarney and UCC has been on form lately. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

It would be complete folly to pick a team in 2020 based on what a bunch of 17-year-olds did back in 2017 though. Some have kicked on, for sure, but there are lots of 18- and 19-year-olds in top form that deserve consideration also, and indeed a few players on the age who were overlooked for that All-Ireland winning campaign of three years ago.

In some respect, the success of this team may hinge entirely on judgment calls by management, given the difficulty of preparing this side under the Covid restrictions. Therefore, gut calls will have to be made in a few key positions, and the team may live and die by those calls.

Take full-back, for instance. Dual player Ciaran Nyhan from Ballinascarthy wore the number three shirt three years ago and remains an option now, but other options are Kieran O’Sullivan, Newtown’s regular full-back at premier senior level, Castlemartyr’s Darragh Moran, and Killeagh’s Dylan Hogan, who captained Midleton CBS to Harty Cup glory.

There are four top-class corner-backs in Eoin Roche, Conor O’Callaghan, Jamie Copps and Ronan Sheehan, so accommodating them all will be difficult. The fact that Roche and O’Callaghan play a lot of their hurling at centre-back might solve that issue.

Centre-back, just as it is at senior, is a huge question mark. O’Callaghan won his All-Ireland medal at six, but management may look for a more physical anchor.

Options may include Moran and Roche, Cormac O’Brien from Newtown, and possibly even the Harty Cup-winning centre-back Ciaran Joyce. Again, these selections will come down to judgment calls.

The emergence of players such as Douglas wing-back Cillian O’Donovan, Kanturk midfielder Brian O’Sullivan, Glen Rovers’ Luke Horgan, and Ethan Twomey of the Barrs gives further options around the field. Na Piarsaigh’s Daire Connery could be deployed in midfield.

Huge question marks hang over the fitness of Cork’s more physically imposing attackers, such as Sean Twomey and Joe Stack, meaning the likes of Jason Hankard and Colin O’Brien could be vital.

In terms of scoring power, Blackrock’s Alan Connolly, Watergrasshill’s Shane O’Regan, and Blarney pair Pádraig Power and Barrett did not start in 2017 but have been shooting the lights out for their clubs. A full-forward line of Connolly, O’Regan, and Power, with Barrett at wing-forward, would be hard to stop if they could be balanced with big men such as Hankard, Twomey, O’Brien and Hanlon.

Alan Connolly of Blackrock in action against Kieran O'Sullivan of Newtown. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Alan Connolly of Blackrock in action against Kieran O'Sullivan of Newtown. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The mercurial Tommy O’Connell must be accommodated, while the U17 All-Ireland winning captain Brian Roche would also be a strong contender to start.

Cork would usually be expected to play wristy, through the lines hurling, but given that we should expect these games to be played in less than ideal conditions, the premium may be on playing a more direct, power-orientated style for this campaign.

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