On a wider level, Cork hurling is thriving but the top teams need to start winning All-Irelands again

On a wider level, Cork hurling is thriving but the top teams need to start winning All-Irelands again
Brian Turnbull has looked the part for the U20s. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

CORK hurling is in a good place right now.

Bear with me. A few days after a devastating loss to Kilkenny, that sounds strange admittedly.

Like the rest of you, I was disgusted with the way Cork were horsed out of it in Croke Park. Kilkenny hurled like a group on a mission. Cork didn’t, with Patrick Horgan and the Cadogans the notable exceptions.

Cork haven’t lifted Liam McCarthy since 2005. Since then the Cats have brought the cup back to Noreside a staggering eight times.

How then can we explain why the Cats hurled as if their lives depended on it and Cork were so flat in the third quarter last weekend? Why didn’t the Rebels go for the jugular in the first half, with the wind, and run up a seven- or eight-point advantage when they were on top?

Last season in losing the All-Ireland semi-final to Limerick you could blame a few bad calls from the ref or a few unfortunate breaks of the ball. Dial back to 2017 and a red card tilted the balance in Waterford’s favour.

This time there were no excuses. Kilkenny wanted it more, were more physical and a bit more clinical. That’s why they’re in the last four and the Cork hurlers are back on club duty.

Yet if you zoom out and examine the bigger picture, Cork hurling is thriving.

Genuinely though, there are more young boys and girls hurling than ever before. Clubs in every corner of the county are putting incredible work in to spread the hurling gospel with nothing like the resources the Dubs have.

There are too few Gaelic Development Administrators on Leeside, but the ground those GDAs cover is incredible. The Sciath na Scol scene and the vibrancy of the sport at primary schools level is impressive.

The Go Games approach at the early ages ensures underage hurlers play in a variety of venues and against various clubs in a way that wasn’t feasible even 20 years ago.

At a more serious level, Cork secondary schools are perennial contenders at every age and across the grades. Senior selector Donal O’Mahony was a bitterly disappointed man at Croker on Sunday but what’s more important than anything he’s done with the elite players is the way he’s pushed Christians to the fore in the Harty Cup.

Midleton CBS defeated CBC in this year’s final but what an occasion it was to have four Cork schools drawing a crowd into Páirc Uí Rinn, with Rochestown College taking on Hamilton High School in the B decider.

Midleton CBS's Kian Farmer is tackled by CBC's Declan Hannon. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Midleton CBS's Kian Farmer is tackled by CBC's Declan Hannon. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

UCC lifted the Fitzgibbon Cup back in spring and Tom Kingston, Dr Paddy Crowley, Martin Walsh and more have ensured the Blood and Bandage haven’t been left behind by the likes of UL, with their incredible facilities.

After a run of underage underachievement at inter-county, Cork teams won the Munster minor two years ago and the U21 last season (followed admittedly by losses in the All-Irelands) while they also landed the one-off U17 crowns in the Munster and All-Ireland competitions in 2017. This summer’s minors should have reached the provincial final, knocked out late on against Clare in Ennis, but some of that crop will progress to senior, undoubtedly.

The last team standing are the U20s, who have Tipp in the Munster final next Tuesday night up in Thurles. They were good, without hitting any great heights, in getting past Limerick and Clare in recent weeks at Páirc Uí Rinn and will need to up the gears to down the Premier, who dismantled Waterford last week.

Simon Kennefick is fouled. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Simon Kennefick is fouled. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Cork beat Tipp at minor in a stone-cold classic provincial semi-final replay in 2017 but the stakes aren’t as high this time, given both teams are in the All-Ireland semis, along with Kilkenny and Wexford. Denis Ring and his management were heavily criticised last year when Tipp used the backdoor to beat them, and while they might have made better use of their bench, the selectors were let down by too many marquee men misfiring.

Cork’s defeat last weekend should be a huge motivator for this group. On a collective level they’re flying the Rebel flag for the rest of the summer, but individually this is a chance to audition for senior spots in 2020.

We’ve to wait and see if John Meyler, O’Mahony and Kieran Murphy go forward into next season but whoever is at the helm will want to refresh the Cork senior team. The reality is many of the hurlers who were to the fore across the past three seasons when the Rebels fell to cruel defeats on Jones Road will have to make way for the next generation.

Shane O'Regan. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Shane O'Regan. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

That isn’t being harsh. The likes of Brian Turnbull, Ger Millerick, James Keating, Shane O’Regan, Daire Connery and more must be auditioned.

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