SHANE Kingston summed it up perfectly as the sun set over Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Wednesday.
“Two Munster medals in four days. It’s a brilliant feeling.”
Captaining the side from the half-forward line, the Douglas club man used his strength and speed to rip the Tipperary rearguard asunder, slicing over 0-4. Just as crucially his work-rate, physicality and the attitude put their defenders under severe pressure when clearing their lines.
As the clock wound down, he hounded a delivery from a short puck-out which was then collected by Mark Coleman at the half-way line. He duly split the posts to the joy of the Rebel faithful in the crowd of 6,732.
That effort was on show throughout from the Cork attack, not just Kingston, the marquee name by virtue of his senior exploits since last summer.
After an epic battle with Clare in last weekend’s Munster senior final in searing heat, Cork’s best-known hurlers would have been forgiven for being off note here. Instead, they set the tone.
“It’s hard going but you’ve to get on with it and it’s days like these you’re happy to do it,” he explained.
Cork scraped over the line in the U21 semi-final against Waterford but were ruthless this time. Though Ger Collins, assured throughout in between the posts, saved an early penalty Cork were full value for their 13-point winning margin.
Apart from Darragh Fitzgibbon, whose participation against Clare on Sunday had been threatened by an illness which forced him off early on this occasion, the big guns fired.
“We’d a terrible start against Waterford and we couldn’t let that happen again. We said we’d throw the kitchen sink at it. Tipp didn’t play their best. It could have been very different.”
The Rebels’ link-up play was breathtakingly effective. Kingston, usually very direct, had three assists to go with his four points and set up a goal chance for Deccie Dalton. Coleman operated as a quarter-back dropping off from midfield and his distribution was astonishing, yet again.
Everywhere though Cork hurled with confidence and intelligence. Tim O’Mahony timed his pass to perfection for Robbie O’Flynn’s rocket of a goal. Coleman, the tenacious Billy Hennessy and Dalton combined to release Jack O’Connor to raise a second green flag.
Liam Healy’s point just before half-time came after Conor Cahalane (a beast off the bench at midfield), David Griffin, Coleman and Kingston combined.
“We’ve been playing together so long we’re used to linking up. We train together four or five times a week at some parts of the season and we meet up in the gym as well. It brings a special bond and makes it all the sweeter when you win,” he said, before departing to hand his geansaí from the game to his cousins Maggie and Jack Costello.
Their father Brian – who is married to Kieran Kingston’s sister Olive – is a first cousin of U21 coach John Dwyer, incidentally.
The Ballincollig man was thrilled with the style and physicality Cork hurled with. While the U21 selectors have had limited access to the senior panellists due to the Munster round-robin format, Dwyer believes the young Rebels are showing increasing maturity.
“In fairness to the young fellas they gave absolutely everything," said Dwyer after savouring the triumph with his wife Alison and son Eoin.
“We have 10 of that panel training with the seniors and they’re 19, 20 years of age and they’re working with Fraggie Murphy and coaches like that. I was delighted with the leadership in every line of the field though, they were constantly talking which is a great sign.”
The likes of Griffin, David Lowney and Eoghan Murphy ensured Tipp rarely looked like scoring. O’Flynn’s pace and quick pick-ups burned holes in the Premier defence, while Sars pair Healy and O’Connor were always menacing up top, with their silken touches and lethal wrists.
By half-time, with the scoreboard reading 1-12 to 0-5 it was game over.
“We were comfortable enough on the scoreboard but look it’s hurling. We were six points up on Tipp at minor two years ago and they turned it around and ended up All-Ireland champions and we were out. They were way better than us on the day at minor and that was mentioned in the dressing room. We also mentioned the Cork-Tipp senior game when it looked like we were cruising but that’s hurling, you’re never comfortable.”
Dwyer, Cork manager Denis Ring and selectors John Mortell, Liam Martin and Fergus Ryan experienced plenty of disappointment at minor level – including a semi-final defeat to Limerick with the core of these players in 2015 – until they guided last year’s U18s to the All-Ireland final.
They’re now hot favourites to do the same again, but will face a tough semi-final in early August against Wexford, narrowly defeated by a last-second Galway goal in extra-time in the Leinster final.
“The next game is in four weeks but you’re going in as Munster champions and, as we well know from minor, that’s a hard title to win. We’ll dust ourselves down though, enjoy this for a couple of days, and focus on the All-Ireland series. Tipperary are still in and they’ll come back strong, Galway and Wexford are serious teams as well.”