Munster U20 quarter-final
Cork v Tipperary,
Páirc Uí Rinn, 7pm
THE county might be gearing up for the first Cork-Kerry Munster final in the revamped Páirc Uí Rinn in eight days, but Seán Hayes has business to take care of first.
The senior selector is doubling up as bainisteoir of the Rebels in the new U20 grade, which replaces U21, and his focus right now is Tipperary tomorrow night at Páirc Uí Rinn.
Where the U21 series was held in the spring, the U20s are in action over the summer, with senior panellists unavailable. The switch was initiated to avoid clashes with third-level player burnout.
As Hayes explains though, there is still a crossover with the Leaving Cert.
“It’s a strange one compared to the U21 in terms of the timing, and I wouldn’t agree with it because of the involvement of Leaving Certs. It makes it hard for them. We’re playing Saturday night and nine of our panel of 33 are tied up with exams.
“There were other fellas didn’t commit to the panel because they were doing the Leaving Cert and they do it at 18/19 now instead of 17. It’s the same for every county and it has taken a bit out of it, but now we’re back into the championship side of things we’re looking forward to it.
“The lads are still involved with the Colleges competitions, though with Freshers there’s a bit less pressure on them than if they’re playing Sigerson. We only had two playing in that. Still though the timing of it means we’re crossed over in the county U21 championship, the first few rounds of that have been played and there are demands on the players to play and train with their clubs.”
Though Mark White is unavailable as he’s now the senior stopper, Hayes and his management team of Jim O’Donoghue, Aidan Kelleher, Gene O’Driscoll and Sean Bowes have a talented panel at their disposal. While Kerry have been All-Ireland minor kingpins for four years in a row, Cork have pushed them close at times.
The vital cogs against Tipp will include captain Liam O’Donovan, from Clon, defender Aidan Browne, towering midfielder Mark Keane, who could yet move to Oz for the AFL, Éire Óg powerhouse Colm O’Callaghan, and Douglas’ Nathan Walsh.
Add in west Cork attacking duo Damien Gore and Mark Buckley, and Nemo’s Mark Cronin, a younger brother of Stephen and Alan, and Kevin O’Donovan (who is on the way back from injury), and this Cork outfit could do real damage.
“We picked our panel back in the winter and we’ve worked very hard since but the Croke Park ruling was you couldn’t play challenge matches at the weekend. I understand that it’s to protect the clubs but it’s a big ask to expect 19-year-olds to be playing Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday in inter-county challenges. That’s not feasible most of the time.
“Our problem has been a lack of games compared to other years I was involved at U21 but the panel we have is fantastic. Their attitude is really great. There are nine or 10 lads who are late developers, haven’t been involved in Cork squads before and that shows the value of the grade.”
For all the concerns about the U20 concept, Nemo club man Hayes is determined to drive on. Beat Tipp tomorrow and Cork are at home to Clare next Friday, before a likely Munster final against Kerry the weekend after.
“Once you’re in championship, you go into a certain mindset that you just want to keep going. I’d love to be playing into August because that means we’ve made the All-Ireland final.
“Tipperary only lost to Cork two years ago at minor by two points and it was a tough game. Dave Power always has his teams very well prepared. They’ve no fear of us and we’ve no fear of them. The whole thing on Saturday is to get over your first game because they’re always dicey when it’s knockout and you just don’t know how you’re going to perform.
“The players are a great bunch, I’m very impressed with their attitude and we just haven’t played enough matches to tell you how good they are but if it goes well on Saturday they’ll go a long way.”