CORK’S plate in the Munster U21 hurling championship has been empty now for 11 years since the last title win in 2007.
In the interim period, Clare have won it on four occasions, Limerick have won it three times, Tipperary twice and Waterford once.
Cork’s recent record has not been impressive, though they made finals in 2011, 2014 and last year, but there would be cautious optimism around that the long gap can be bridged over the next few months.
Limerick are the reigning Munster and All-Ireland champions and they have the bulk of last year’s squad and they have already signalled their intent with a first-round victory over Clare.
They will play Tipperary in one semi-final while it’s Cork and Waterford on June 20 at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in the other.
Cork have a new management team this time, last season’s minor quintet of Denis Ring, Johnny Dwyer, Liam Martin, John Mortell and Fergus Ryan.
And they certainly haven’t let the grass grow under their feet since taking the reins, playing a number of challenge games as team boss Denis Ring explains.
“Preparations are going well, obviously we have a few of the lads on the senior squad and on their extended panel but we are moving along nicely with a bunch of players that are very committed and who are putting in the work.
“We believe we have a very strong squad at our disposal but the other counties will be strong too and for us our only focus is on the Waterford game in a few weeks time in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. We have played a few very worthwhile challenge games against Limerick, Kilkenny, Offaly, Wexford and Galway and we try to train three times a week, mainly in Cork IT.’’
A list of the players available to the management certainly makes impressive reading and among them are senior stars, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman and Shane Kingston, as well as newer faces like Robbie O’Flynn, Tim O’Mahony and Jack O’Connor plus David Griffin, Eoghan Murphy and Chris O’Leary.
David Lowney, Niall O’Leary, John Cashman, Deccie Dalton, the Roche brothers, Eoin and Brian, Daire Connery, and last year's minor keeper Ger Collins are also on the squad as are others like Conor Cahalane, Liam O’Shea, Seadnaidh Smyth, Billy Hennessy, Conor Cahalane and Aaron Myers.
Looking at it from that perspective, it’s one of the strongest units to be involved for quite a while.
“We believe we have a good blend in the squad and if we progress against Waterford we’d be hoping that Brian Turnbull, who has been out for a long spell through injury and is doing his Leaving Cert, will be coming into the equation.
“Having your best players starting and strong options coming in from the bench is the requirement from our viewpoint and it’s been progressing nicely for us."
Ring believes that Limerick are entitled to be tagged as favourites again after last season’s success story.
“Look, our only concern is Waterford and being in the best shape for that game. We can only control what we can do but you’d have to say that Limerick look formidable again.
“They’d have a full-forward line of maybe Peter Casey, Seamus Flanagan, Barry Murphy, they’d have Kyle Hayes, Conor Boylan, Tommy Grimes, they’ll be very very strong but so will Tipp from their recent minor teams.
“As I said, our only focus is on Waterford and they’ll have good hurlers like Darragh Lyons, Conor Prunty and Peter Hogan. Obviously, it’s nice to have them in Cork but you have to make use of that."
With so many of the players involved in the senior set-up, there is a strong attachment there and the manager says it is going well.
“We are liaising with the seniors all the time and you have to have that. John Meyler has gone from the U21s last season to the seniors this time and we have moved from the minor team to the U21 team.
“There’s continuity there and that works well. We have kept an eye on how things are going in Waterford and they had a good win in a challenge game recently with Dublin.
"So it won’t be easy against them but there are no easy games in any championship grade now. We are preparing well and, hopefully, we’ll have no injury concerns when the time comes.
“It would be great to get back to a final again but it’s Waterford and Waterford only that’s our focus at the moment."