Early Cork promise turned into agony for the minors

Early Cork promise turned into agony for the minors
Brian Turnbull of Cork celebrates scoring his side's first goal. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

ANOTHER day of frustration and disappointment for Cork hurling at headquarters.

The long and impatient wait to end a 16-year sojourn in the wilderness goes on and Tomás O'Leary remains the last Cork player to captain an All-Ireland winning minor team. This was another defeat that was hard to take, all the more so because everything had looked so rosy in the Croke Park garden very early on.

By the 20th minute Cork had constructed a seven point advantage and, playing against the elements, that was, as they'd say, a handy lead. But with minors the only certainty is uncertainty and by the interval that advantage had been reduced to four and going to the dressing rooms it was game on.

Cork had the start that was the stuff of dreams, a golden goal from their best player, Brian Turnbull from Douglas.

This fellow had been a major injury worry in the camp all week but just 10 seconds in he had the ball in the back of the Galway net, maybe the quickest goal ever in a final.

With only the minimum of support behind them, this was just perfect, Galway and their vast support were rocked and Cork were rocking.

Another one of Cork's standout players, Liam O'Shea pointed as did Craig Hanifin and just 12 minutes in it was 1-3 to 0-2.

Three minutes letter it got even better, a delightful pass from young O'Shea found Evan Sheehan, another injury doubt all week, and from the acutest of angles he drilled home a quite sensational goal Galway hardly knew what had hit them and it was all Cork at that juncture.

Evan Sheehan drives towards the goal.
Evan Sheehan drives towards the goal.

When Turnbull rifled over a point in the 20th minute, Cork were seven clear and that was against a substantial wind.

It was an imperative that Cork hit the ground running and everything had gone according to plan, the Galway hordes were silenced, for the time being anyway.

The much heralded Galway full—forward line of Sean Bleahane, Donal Mannion and Jack Canning were not allowed to function although by half-time Bleahane had split the posts with a few gems.

Conor Mollow was Galway's scorer-in-chief in that opening half, all his points coming from the placed ball By half-time Cork were in exactly the place they wanted to be in, leading by four points with the wind advantage to come.

But when they resumed, the tide turned dramatically and, similar to Cork a half an hour earlier, Galway were in for a goal from Jack Canning. Canning had been mostly anonymous in the opening sequences but you can never trust a Canning. The nephew of Joe was back in business and he bare minimum was now dividing the teams.

Hanifin and Turnbull got a few points back for the Munster champions to settle them down again but seven minutes later came what you might describe as the game's defining moment.

Galway number 11, Conor Walsh set up that man Canning again and the outcome was another goal. Now Galway were calling the shots and they got the rub of the green a few minutes later when a Cork goal from Rob Downey was ruled out for a square infringement.

It was a weird one, firstly the umpire signaled that it was okay but after consultation with one of his linesmen, the referee said no. It was a huge moment in the contest and it went Galway's way.

However, as the game aged it was becoming increasingly obvious that not enough Cork players were playing to their full potential.

Only Turnbull and O'Shea were really effective up front and there were difficulties elsewhere too.

3 September 2017; Craig Hanifin of Cork in action against Mark Gill of Galway during the Electric Ireland GAA Hurling All-Ireland Minor Championship Final match between Galway and Cork at Croke Park in Dublin.
3 September 2017; Craig Hanifin of Cork in action against Mark Gill of Galway during the Electric Ireland GAA Hurling All-Ireland Minor Championship Final match between Galway and Cork at Croke Park in Dublin.

When Molloy pointed another free in the 51st minute the turnaround was now 12 points, from being seven to the good, Cork were five behind. The Galway support was now in its full voice but, as they have done all season, Cork's response was gallant.

Three unanswered points from Turnbull, Downey and Turnbull again made it a two point game and the stage was in readiness for a grandstand finale.

Daire Connery was wide with a distance free, a few more half chances were not converted but there was still hope when five minutes of time added on were put up on the board.

But as hard as they tried there was to be no more heroics from the young men in red on this occasion. Another distance effort from team captain Sean O'Leary Hayes drifted wide and Galway held their nerve in the closing, frenetic minutes.

Our thoughts turned back to that Thursday night in Thurles when Sheehan blasted in a last-gasp goal to open up the entire year for these young Cork men.

It didn't happen this time and there was no fairytale ending.

Sean O’Leary Hayes dejected after the game. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Sean O’Leary Hayes dejected after the game. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

With the U17 title already bagged, the add on of a minor title would have made it a remarkable year for Cork underage hurling.

But, at the end of the day, Cork hurling is still in a better place than it has been for quite a while Cork County Board chair, Ger Lane summed it up perfectly.

“These young players, both at U17 and minor have put in a huge shift all year. It's desperately disappointing to lose today but nobody could fault their effort.

“The management too, they put in a vast effort all through a long year.  It just didn't go our way there in the end, but I have no doubt that we will be hearing from a lot of these Cork players again in the future.''

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