TWO Munster finals coming over the horizon in the next week, Cork hurling is in a decent place right now, pity the same could not be said for the other code.
Given the fairly level playing field in all the grades in the province, reaching a final is an achievement in itself and, of course, by doing that you are guaranteeing yourself an extension to the summer.
This is the first season that this will happen at U21 level and whether Cork win or lose the Munster final they will have at least one more game in the All-Ireland, a semi-final against the Leinster final losers.
Much is expected of the U21 team this season and, whilst far from being convincing, they got their business done against Waterford last Wednesday night. The level of expectation surrounding the team is based very much on the fact it contains seven members of the senior squad that includes three of the country’s best young players in Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman, and Shane Kingston.
Add in Tim O’Mahony, Robbie O’Flynn, David Griffin, and Jack O’Connor and you have a fine platform.
The subs bench contributed handsomely too against Waterford with Daire Connery and Conor Cahalane securing three important points between them. A few more players didn’t feature at all because of exams and those included Brian Turnbull, Ger Millerick and Sean O’Leary-Hayes.
O’Mahony didn’t feature because of illness and he was a considerable loss.
Put all that together and you have, potentially, the best squad for quite some time.
However, potential never won anything and this has to be taken into account, especially where the senior starters on this U21 team are concerned and how challenging things are for them right now.
Fitzgibbon, Coleman, and Kingston have been going at it hammer and tongs for the last four or five weeks and just a few days later they are been looked upon as the key players at U21 level.
All three made significant contributions last Wednesday night, as did Robbie O’Flynn, but it does not always follow that senior players will be U21 stars a few nights later.
There are massive demands on these guys right now, they are facing two huge Munster finals in the space of just four days.
So, let’s take all things into account, their tender years, the current schedule of games, and the expectation levels put on them.
They are the future of Cork hurling but they are not supermen.
Cork’s best player last Wednesday night was Billy Hennessy from the ‘Barrs. He put in a huge, sustained shift and really impressed.
And on the subject of ‘Barrs players, young Conor Cahalane came in off the bench and made a fine contribution, scoring a big point in the process.
There’s big brother Damien now cemented as the Cork senior full-back while last Sunday week his younger brother Jack lined out and had a splendid game for the minors against Waterford.
This is certainly a case of the family Cahalane contributing handsomely at all levels for the county.
Now it’s Tipperary in the Munster final, a Tipperary team that looked very impressive in dismantling the All-Ireland champions Limerick last Thursday night in Thurles. That result certainly told us not to take too much notice of challenge encounters because 10 or 12 days earlier Waterford had beaten Tipp in one of those games.
Cork will have home advantage again but does the advantage lie with Tipp in so far as they will have the perfect uninterrupted preparation, all the squad training together whereas Cork will have six players involved with the senior squad?
And the three most influential players on the team, Fitzgibbon, Coleman, and Kingston will be playing in a massive senior final against Clare just three days earlier.
Surely there has to be a bit more done by the Munster Council in their scheduling of these games.
Even a week in between the two games would go a long way.
But it is what it is as they say and this present Cork team and squad represent the county’s best chance for some time in ending a very barren spell in this grade.
But first things first and the only focus for the next few days is going to be on Thurles next Sunday for the senior final.
Last year, on the same day, the majority of Clare fans opted for the couch rather than the town end and the Killinan end.
This time it will be different and they will arrive in the square in the old town full of optimism on the back of two superb wins over Tipperary and Limerick.
That’s an ideal scenario to be dealing with going into a Munster final and they’ll believe too that the law of averages might apply is so far as they will be seeking their first Championship win over Cork since the 2013 All-Ireland final.
In many respects, they should be entitled now to be going in as favourites for this game.
And if the teams most recent encounters are a guideline, that should definitely be the case, Cork patchy enough in their victory over Waterford which went right down to the wire andClare hugely impressive in that win over what prior to then, was a hugely impressive Limerick unit.
But, as we know, every game takes on a life of its own and this one will surely be no different.
One thing is for certain, there won’t be any empty spaces in the aforementioned town and Killinan end next Sunday.
Thurles will be rocking for the early start.