TONIGHT Munster U21 semi-final: Cork v Waterford, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 7.30pm. Live on TG4.
CORK hurling fans are waiting quite a while now for a provincial U21 title to end up on Leeside.
Not since 2007 has the trophy found its way into the hands of a Cork captain but there is cautious optimism that the wait could end over the coming weeks.
Having received a bye into the semi-final, the squad assembled by Denis Ring’s management team finds itself an hour away from the final and a chance for the county to atone for last season’s final loss to Limerick.
This is the first season of Ring’s management’s reign and they have put in a huge effort on the training ground and in quite a few challenge matches in preparation.
Teams like Galway, Kilkenny, Wexford and more recently county senior champions Imokilly have all provided strong opposition and in terms of preparing the squad, team coach Johnny Dwyer from Ballincollig believes they have done as much as could possibly be done.
“I suppose the biggest challenge has been getting the group of players together at the one time. This won’t actually happen until the day of the match and that’s no fault of anyone.
“We had the senior lads heavily involved in their business over the past month or so and they certainly have been kept going. The challenge games that we have played have been worthwhile and the players on duty in those games really put in a big effort in those.
“There’s no doubt that we have a strong panel, there’s ferocious talent about but it’s getting them to click as a collective unit on the night against Waterford.
“There’s a good few from last year still there and the team is, obviously, backboned by the senior lads, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Shane Kingston, Mark Coleman and Tim O’Mahony.
“Robbie O’Flynn is back in the equation again after his injury so we’ll see how he is before making a final decision.
“You have others too like David Griffin, Eoghan Murphy and Niall O’Leary and we’d be going into the game cautiously hopeful."
Waterford, however, he believes, will provide strong opposition and he got a look at them recently in a challenge encounter against Tipperary.
“Yes, we saw them and they beat a good Tipp team. I was impressed with them to be honest and the fact that they have been together all along will stand to them too.
“I won’t say we are worried about them but we know we will have to play to our full potential to get over them."
The Cork starting 15 will be formidable and selecting that unit has been a challenge in itself.
“Yes, that was the case, without a doubt. Only 15 players can start and there are contenders and options throughout the field and, hopefully, the team that we have selected will do the job but those on the panel are just as important and will be on the night," he told the Echo.
Ballinhassig’s Ger Collins is in goal and the full-back line will be David Lowney, David Griffin and Niall O’Leary. Mark Coleman should be number six while Darragh Fitzgibbon will be in midfield with Chris O’Leary likely to partner him.
Tim O’Mahony, Shane Kingston, Jack O’Connor, Deccie Dalton and O’Flynn will spearhead the attack with Sars' Liam Healy on board too.
Waterford will be backboned by Billy Nolan between the posts and he was man of the match in the challenge game against Tipp which Waterford won on a scoreline of 1-24 to 2-17.
Conor Prunty is another very highly rated individual while Darragh Lyons, Jordan Henley and Peter Hogan will all be on the starting block as well.
Waterford also featured in a very competitive challenge game with Kilkenny and team boss Sean Power has, by all accounts, assembled a squad that will fully test Cork.
Cork won the corresponding fixture in Walsh Park last season and will be going in here as favourites to get back into a Munster final against Tipp or Limerick.
There is always an element of uncertainty going into the first championship game but, on home turf, it would be considered a surprise if the young Rebels don’t come through.