This Cork minor team have put in years of hard work under the Rebel Óg system to reach Croke Park, but Galway will be their toughest test yet

This Cork minor team have put in years of hard work under the Rebel Óg system to reach Croke Park, but Galway will be their toughest test yet
Liam O'Shea of Cork in action against Michael Feehan of Tipperary. The East Cork man has developed into a vital cog in the Rebel attack. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

IN private conversation recently, a former Galway minor, who won an All-Ireland medal in 2015, spoke about that win, and the impact the huge Galway crowd had on influencing their performance.

Galway went into that game as underdogs. They had a young squad, almost half of which were underage again the following year. 

Tipperary entered the match as warm favourites but Galway caused a shock to beat them by six points. The teams were level at the break but Galway made a huge surge just after the interval by hitting 2-2 in four minutes. Driven on the by the huge Galway crowd, Galway secured their third goal in the 40th minute, which effectively ended the match.

“The Galway crowd did make a big difference to us that day,” says the player. “You didn’t really notice it much in the first half but the roof lifted off the stands when we got the goals after half time.

“There were obviously more Galway supporters in the ground for the second half but you could feel the momentum building and building. It gave us great confidence.” 

Tipperary clearly struggled to deal with that electricity in the ground. They almost looked spooked by it once Galway got on top. 

The players probably felt even more isolated because, while the supporters from the other team in the senior final often shout for the minor team in that situation, the Kilkenny crowd certainly weren’t going to offer those young Tipp players any backing. 

The crowd never won anything but the Cork players will have to deal with that situation again on Sunday when they take on a Galway minor team which will have access to that huge Galway support. They will hope to plug into that electricity. 

And Cork will hope to unplug it by not allowing the crowd to generate that electricity and inspire the Galway players.

Cork also know what it is like to have such huge support behind them, and the impact it can have. It started for the Munster semi-final replay in Páirc Uí Rinn when a huge crowd turned up to roar them home.

A Cork-Clare minor-senior Munster final looked set to equalise the support but Cork outnumbered Clare almost 5-1, which almost made it feel like another home game.  The players were liberated from finally having crossed the threshold and reaching a Munster final but once Cork got on top early in that match, the players were clearly driven on by the huge Cork support.

Cork didn’t play as well in the All-Ireland minor semi-final against Dublin but there were close to 40,000 Cork supporters in the ground by the time the game finished.  Cork always looked in control in the second half but the huge vocal support probably was a factor when Dublin charged at them late on.

Cork are deservedly favourites for Sunday. 

Eoin Roche, Cork, puts in a challenge against Dublin during the All-Ireland MHC semi-final match at Croke Park. Picture Dan Linehan
Eoin Roche, Cork, puts in a challenge against Dublin during the All-Ireland MHC semi-final match at Croke Park. Picture Dan Linehan

Since U14, this team has been the best in the country, right up through the grades. This Galway team never really featured much, or hit anything like the same heights along the same path, but that is irrelevant in the context of Galway’s consistent ability to produce excellent minor teams.

Galway have just been able to consistently turn a perceived disadvantage, from not having any game until July, into a perennial advantage.

They can sit back, study the opposition and gear everything towards being right for a six-week window.

It was hard to tell but there seemed to be a drop-off in Cork’s performance against Dublin, whereas Galway were at a really high pitch against Kilkenny a week earlier. 

It’s already been a long season for Cork, from having first played in early April, compared to Galway only having effectively started since late July. If Galway are possibly fresher now, Cork’s preparations haven’t probably been ideal either. 

After the Dublin game, Cork didn’t have their next real proper get-together until they met in the Mardyke eight days later, just 13 days before the final. 

Four minor championship quarter-finals were played the Tuesday after the Dublin game while a number of players were involved in club games that weekend.

Injuries have been stacking up too, especially to marquee players. Evan Sheehan has been out with a medial ligament injury, and is in a race to be fit, while Brian Turnbull picked up a hamstring injury playing senior championship for Douglas. Turnbull should be fine but he may not be as razor sharp as he was against Dublin with limited training over the past two weeks. 

Cork are certainly a far more potent outfit with those two players; Turnbull has already amassed 0-44 in this minor campaign while Sheehan has accounted for 3-5.

Over the last two games, the minors were able to operate under the radar as a curtain-raiser to the seniors but there is added pressure on the team now with the seniors having been beaten.  There is always pressure in an All-Ireland final but Cork will just focus on performance as opposed to trying to end a 16-year famine at this level.

This will be a real battle but Cork are good enough to win. This team looks tailor made for Croke Park, beautiful, slick ball-players, with enough power and physicality to match Galway in key areas.

All-Ireland minor finals are always huge occasions for young players but a priority for Cork will be to start well, to get ahead and take control of the match as early as possible.

If they can, that may allow Cork to have some kind of a cushion in the second-half. Because the last thing Cork will want is to give Galway momentum and confidence with a huge Galway crowd roaring them on, and trying to get them over the line.

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