'When you're a Cork hurler you can't be the best unless you're pushing for All-Irelands'

'When you're a Cork hurler you can't be the best unless you're pushing for All-Irelands'
Deccie Dalton scores a brillant sideline. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

WE headed into Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Wednesday evening expecting an Old Firm hurling classic but instead witnessed a coronation.

Cork became Munster U21 champions in the best possible manner, by hurling their greatest rivals off the Páirc. Kings of Munster for the first time since 2007.

Tipp travelled to Leeside as underdogs but not complete outsiders. They'd dismantled the All-Ireland champions Limerick in the Munster semi-final and while they didn't have too many 'on the age' U21s, they were minor champions two years ago.

Brian McGrath, Ger Browne, Paddy Cadell, Jerome Cahill and Jake Morris, who hit the leveller for the Tipp seniors against Cork back in May, were recognisable names yet even with Darragh Fitzgibbon coming off with an illness, the Rebels' big guns fired. Mark Coleman glided around the midfield and picked passes with aplomb while Shane Kingston was fast and furious in attack.

When added to the efforts of Deccie Dalton, Robbie O'Flynn, Sars trio Eoghan Murphy, Jack O'Connor and Liam Healy, Billy Hennessy, sub Conor Cahalane and keeper Ger Collins and the gulf in class was obvious throughout.

Conor Cahalane celebrates after winning a free. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Conor Cahalane celebrates after winning a free. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Stephen Casey, on the strength and conditioning side, and Denis Ring and Johnny Dwyer, the hurling, had them expertly drilled.

Cork teams had suffered enough against Tipp lately in this grade to have any sympathy for them. In 2012, in the old Páirc, Cork were 0-16 to 0-12 ahead with six minutes of normal time left but were pipped 0-18 to 0-17 in a sickening finale. A year later the Premier struck for five goals as Cork were wiped out at Semple Stadium.

These are different times though. We've printed headlines reading 'Cork hurling is back' a few times over the past 18 months but at this juncture, even though an All-Ireland is still overdue, it's an undeniable fact.

Of the seven Munster titles on offer in 2017 and '18, Cork collected five of them, two at senior and one at minor, U17 and U21, presented with delight each time by provincial chairman and Cloyne native Jerry O'Sullivan. It's quite the contrast to 2016, O'Sullivan's first year as Munster chair when Cork hurling was at a nadir.

For Deccie Dalton, the Fr O'Neill's powerhouse who is as good in goal, where he won a county last season for Imokilly, as he is up front, it's a special feeling to be part of the Rebel revival. 

"Even in Thurles at the weekend there was a real buzz and getting over the line like the seniors did is a huge boost. They’re playing well and we’re playing well. It feeds off each other.

"The crowd are a big factor. You want to put on a performance for the 16th man."

Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

That it was in the new stadium made it sweeter.

"It’s a great stadium. I didn’t get the honour of playing in the old stadium so this is our stadium. We’ll keep trying to win trophies here. You can’t beat that feeling."

While Cork got a bit sloppy in the second half and finished with twice as many wides as Tipp, a 2-23 to 1-13 win was a serious statement of intent. For Dalton it was time for this group to show their class.

"We’ve gone close before. We were two points off beating Limerick last year. That’s only a puck of a ball.

"We lost the minor game in 2015 when we had more than enough chances to win that game but we couldn't get past Limerick. We were never too far off winning an All-Ireland and we’re going to keep training and do everything we can to get over the semi-final next day."

Cork will take on Wexford while Galway face Tipp. Those games will take place in August after the seniors play their semi at Croker.

"When you’re playing for Cork it’s the ultimate honour but you can’t be the best you can be unless you’re pushing for All-Irelands. That’s the goal for every hurler and especially a Cork hurler.

"It’s a massive boost seeing the seniors win at the weekend. We wanted to keep pushing on from that. Hopefully, both teams can build on the momentum. 

"We’re only in the middle of the hurling season, there’s a long way to go yet."

Declan Dalton shoots from Tipperary's Brian McGrath. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Declan Dalton shoots from Tipperary's Brian McGrath. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

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