After losing a classic U20 hurling final to a quality Tipp team, some Cork hurling fans have lost a bit of perspective

After losing a classic U20 hurling final to a quality Tipp team, some Cork hurling fans have lost a bit of perspective
Cork's Shane O'Regan and Eoghan Connolly of Tipperary. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

HURLING isn't like Football Manager.

In that great game you can take Cork City from mid-table mediocrity to Champions League glory with a bit of effort on your PC. The same way you can ensure the New York Jets get on top against the Patriots if you're buried for hours in John Madden on the Playstation or guide the Knicks back to NBA relevancy on the X-Box.

In real life sport, it doesn't work that way.

Cork hurling, after a horrific few seasons, when there was hardly a match won at any level, is back in the mix for trophies. In 2017, Cork won the U17, minor and senior titles and were narrowly beaten away to Limerick in the U21 decider when Darragh Fitzgibbon was suspended and Luke Meade injured. 

Last season they fell short in the senior All-Ireland semi-final to Limerick after extra time and undoubtedly should have beaten Tipp in the U21 final only for a host of big-name hurlers to underperform. 

This year has been a bit disappointing admittedly. A very promising minor crop coughed up a couple of late points to Clare and were eliminated from the Munster series, while the seniors did just show up at all in the second half of the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kilkenny.

Patrick Horgan showed up, as did Alan and Eoin Cadogan while Stephen McDonnell did a decent job limiting TJ Reid's influence but collectively Cork weren't good enough and paid the price.

It's in that context, last Tuesday's U20 loss to Tipperary in the Munster final was especially galling. What is unquestionably a talented group are also a county's last hope of glory.

Sub Padraig Power, still U20 for another two years, hit a point against Tipp. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Sub Padraig Power, still U20 for another two years, hit a point against Tipp. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

In what was the game of the year in any grade of hurling, Cork fell agonisingly short. Tipp may well have been the better side by a nose on a sun-kissed night in Semple Stadium but when Brian Turbull nudged the Rebels 2-17 to 2-15 in front in the 63rd minute they were about to fall short.

However, Jake Morris, hounded relentlessly throughout by the excellent Ger Millerick, pounced on a late break and stitched a terrific goal worthy of winning any final. Even after that Daire Connery was inches away from levelling on the puck-out to force extra time.

Could Cork have won? Absolutely!
Should they have? Probably. 

Two points up deep in injury they should have fouled on the puck-out but this was helter-skelter stuff, the best of underage hurling, where teams are less tactical and tend to go for the jugular.

While it was midway through the first half, if a Shane O'Regan shot had nestled in the back of the net instead of hitting the keeper, Cork would have been 2-8 to 1-4 in front and well in control.Even in defeat, there were some superb displays in Rebel red.

Tommy O'Connell on the ball. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Tommy O'Connell on the ball. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Tommy O'Connell was wearing eight, started on the wing and ended up in midfield, but his work-rate, touch and attitude was a joy to watch. Still U20 next year, he didn't make the minor squad in 2017 but has matured since and his game-awareness is now matching his raw ability. 

His Midleton club comrade Sean O'Leary Hayes was the pick of Cork's backs and made one jaw-dropping block to deny a certain Tipp goal. Eoin Roche was more noticeable than he was in the wins over Limerick and Clare, while Connery, though he had four wides, hurled the world of ball.

Sean Twomey was impressive against Clare and Tipp. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Sean Twomey was impressive against Clare and Tipp. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Seán Twomey, another 19-year-old who couldn't make the minors two years back, is leaner and more direct than he was for Courcey Rovers last year and as well as shooting 1-2 was fouled for three frees.

The likes of Cork senior Robert Downey, Brian Turnbull and Conor O'Callaghan weren't as prominent as they'd been up to now but that's the way it goes. On different days, different players shine.

What you couldn't say it that Cork weren't a top-class hurling team, pushing themselves to the limit.

Yet in the wake of what was a harrowing loss, though somewhat offset by the back-door which means Cork now meet Kilkenny next week, the management and players were slated. Not by everyone, but by a chunk of Rebel supporters.

Cork manager Denis Ring. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Cork manager Denis Ring. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

It wasn't that surprising because everyone on Leeside with a grá for hurling is cranky about the lack of All-Irelands in the modern era and also because Cork manager Denis Ring seems to be a soft target in some quarters. Just for a bit of a context, Ring and his selectors have guided Cork to their first Munster minor in nine years and provincial U21 in 11 years in the past three seasons, as well as losing just three from 13 games.

All three losses were by a puck of a sliotar.

Given the player pool in Cork and the tradition, the Rebels should be doing more. However, there is no God-given right to silverware. Hurling is far more competitive thanks to better coaching and back-doors than it was when Cork were lording it over the rest.

Compared to the nadir of 2016 when Cork teams could hardly win a match, a corner has been turned. A bit of perspective is badly needed before the U20s regroup for a massive battle with the Cats.

Tipperary's Conor Bowe and James Keating. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Tipperary's Conor Bowe and James Keating. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

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