Munster U20 Hurling Championship: Cork v Limerick, Páirc Uí Rinn, 7.30pm
CORK U20 hurling boss Denis Ring is cautiously optimistic that the county can be in the mix again for the Munster title that they so gloriously won 12 months ago against Tipperary.
They subsequently failed to their defeated opponents in the All-Ireland final a few months later — but that’s water under the bridge now as they open the defence of the provincial crown at Páirc Uí Rinn tomorrow night.
The age limit for the competition, of course, has been reduced to U20 this time.
Limerick are in town for a quarter-final tie with the winners out again a week later against Clare.
Ring and his selectors are in the favourable position of being able to call on the services of some hugely talented hurlers, players of the calibre of senior player, Robert Downey, Daire Connery, Sean O’Leary-Hayes, Tommy O’Connell, Eoin and Brian Roche, Brian Turnbull, Craig Hanifin, and Evan Sheehan.
Cork senior panelist Ger Millerick is not named on the starting 15 because of an ongoing injury concern. However he is listed among the subs.
Limerick don’t have any of the current senior side in action, although Mikey O’Brien from Doon is on the panel.
Cork have played a number of challenge encounters in the build-up to the game, and Ring is cautiously optimistic that if the side plays to its full potential, it can mount a serious challenge for honours.
“We believe we have a good squad, a very hard-working bunch of lads who want to do well, and our preparations have gone as well as could be expected.
“There was the disruption of players doing exams — we had 10 of the squad doing the Leaving Cert and more involved in third-level college exams.
“That’s something that you have to accept these days, but it does disrupt your preparations.”
Galway, Kilkenny, Dublin, and Wexford were among the sides they played against in challenge games.
“We had some very worthwhile challenge matches, and we learned quite a bit from those.
“Obviously, we didn’t have all the players available all the time but it was good preparation at the same time. We had some good training sessions too among ourselves and I must say that the response from the players at all times has been top-class.”
Ring and his selectors have managed to get a look at their opponents tonight and believes they will be formidable opponents.
“We saw them in a few challenges against Waterford and Kilkenny, and they looked to be a good side. Hurling, as we know, is very strong in the county now, and a lot of their players have come through a good colleges base.
“They would have played Harty Cup and we’ll certainly have to be on our game to get past them.
“Obviously, the competition is reduced by a year this time, from U21 to U20, and a lot of our lads were involved in the All-Ireland minor final two years ago.
“First-round games in any competition are tricky and you really don’t know what to expect, and if you have a bad night it can be all over very quickly. Playing at home is a small advantage and getting off to a positive start to the game will be important.
“We think we learned a bit about Limerick when we saw them but it’s all about ourselves now and performing as good as we can.”
Games are never won on paper but there is undoubted potential in this Cork set-up with the likes of Downey, Connery, goalkeeper Ger Collins, O’Leary-Hayes, the Roches, Sheehan, and others.
Limerick will be calling on strong individuals like captain Ronan Connolly, Mikey O’Brien, Dylan O’Shea from Garryspillane — who Ring describes as a good forward — Paul O’Brien, and Jerome Boylan, a brother of senior player Conor.
Cork will require a good start in front of their home fans and will have to take the game to Limerick and if that happens, alongside the quality in the side, they should be good enough to take the first step towards retaining the title.