Tomorrow, Munster U20 football semi-final Clare v Cork, Miltown-Malbay, 7pm
SO, here we go again. Munster and All-Ireland champions, Cork, heading to the wild Atlantic and putting their titles on the line.
This is pure championship, the real stuff, with no back-door round or scenic route for a second chance.
Cork have a good sprinkling of survivors from the memorable 2019 campaign, including keeper Josh O'Keeefe (Newmarket), midfielder Daniel O'Connell (Kanturk) and forwards like Blake Murphy (St Vincent's), Mark Cronin (Nemo Rangers), Fionn Herlihy (Dohenys) and Jack Murphy (Éire Óg).
Manager Keith Ricken spoke glowingly about the returnees.
“Some of the lads who played well last year have kept their form and not only that, but their interest and enthusiasm, as well.
“You'd be wondering if they'd be able to go again especially after a long year with only a small break before back into it once more.
“I've been amazed with the lads who've stood up to the plate yet again,” he said.
Another pleasing element of the set-up has been the transition made by those on the extended squad 12 months to the team and panel this season.
“We had a lot of young fellows in the extended squad last year and they're beginning to step up. We're delighted with that.
“We've been going since November, playing internal practice matches and that's why we've a very big panel.
“One of the problems with that is telling lads that they won't be involved and that's a very difficult thing to do, particularly, when they are so committed.
“It's very hard when you see the disappointment on their faces and yet only for them we wouldn't be where we are as it takes that number of people to play those internal games.”
As is always the case Cork are affected by injuries, illness and problems associated with mid-week games at this time of the year.
“We've a few lads out with injuries and one or two who've been sick for the last few days.
“And the fact that it's mid-week means exams and one more player is out because of that.
“Playing in Miltown Malbay in the middle of the week is difficult from a travelling point of view because we've lads coming from Dublin, the various colleges and schools all over the county.
“It's a long day for guys and we'll be delighted to come out with a victory.
“Personally, I'd prefer if it was summer football because it's lovely for lads to play at that time of the year and I'm disappointed for them on missing out.”
Clare have already played a championship game, scoring big in a one-sided win over Waterford.
“The lads saw them last week and they were very impressed with them.
“Clare looked a very polished outfit and we also saw them in the Liam O'Connor Cup.
“Overall, we've watched them two or three times and all you have to do is look back at last year's minor game between the counties, when Cork were very lucky to win.”
A number of those All-Ireland winners were part of Cork's John Kerins Cup success with captain Conor Corbett (Clyda Rovers) and Jack Lawton (Argideen Rangers) among those to catch the eye.
“Last year we had a very good bunch of lads, who were very committed and very honest and it's the same this year.
“At the same time you really don't know what you have until championship time.
“We were very restricted in who we could play in the John Kerins Cup and we couldn't play challenge games.
“Clare, for example, have already played a championship game at home so that's always an advantage, whereas we're going in a small bit blind.
“Yet, that's the beauty of championship and is what it's all about and that's fine.
“Despite the lads playing colleges, schools and club U21, which meant there was a lot of stuff criss-crossing us, we've still managed to put in a good shift with our preparation.
“I am amazed at that truthfully and I have to say there has been a lot of co-operation from the clubs.”