IT’S just over a week out from the All-Ireland final and the Cork minor hurling squad are in a huddle together on the main pitch at the Cork IT complex.
Preparations are starting to wind down for their date with destiny in Croke Park against Galway and no stone is being left unturned in their bid to become the first Cork team to bring the Irish Press Cup back to Leeside since 2001.
Team boss Denis Ring was involved back then, coach alongside team boss John Considine and the young players are fully focused on what’s required of them on the biggest day of their sporting lives.
There is a concern in the camp surrounding the availability of two key players, Evan Sheehan and Brian Turnbull and it may well be Sunday morning before a decision is made on their fitness. They are being given every chance to play but, according to Ring, there are contingency plans in place if they don’t make it.
“That is what a panel is for, there will always be injuries but in this case you are talking about two exceptionally good players, leaders with a great attitude. Apart from us wanting them to be ready, you want these young-fellows to have this unique experience of getting to play in an All-Ireland final."
It’s been a fairly protracted campaign, five games to reach this juncture in the season and being faced with various challenges along the way.
“We were delighted with how we played in every game, bar the Dublin one. There had been a five-week gap since the Munster final and you had two rounds of the minor club championship, intermediate games and so on and so forth to deal with.
“You had some lads involved with the U17s, which was a fantastic win for them and of the 16 sessions that we had since beating Clare we had only the full 30-man squad available on four occasions."
Dublin were obstinate opponents but, despite everything, Cork did the job, something that was pleasing in its own way, according to the team boss.
“I thought it was a somewhat fractured, disjointed performance, it wasn’t typical of the team but I thought the lads showed great maturity afterward in the dressing room because you felt you hadn’t won a match.
“That says a lot about them, they have set a very high standard for themselves, they know when they have played well and when they haven’t. Up to then, they had been exceptional and it was the type of game that helped in its own way in so far as it helped to bring everybody back down to earth."
He acknowledged too that it might well have been the best way to come through an All-Ireland semi-final, leaving plenty of room for improvement.
“Exactly, these lads have been great for us and they have learned a lot about themselves along the way. The two games against Tipperary were invaluable, they were like three games really with the extra-time.
“Then you had that massive night in Páirc Uí Rinn, that was exceptional, a never to be forgotten experience.
“These lads have been through a lot of situations over the campaign, leading in games, going behind, things going against them but each time they have managed to turn it around.’’
Cork will not have the support that Galway will have on Sunday but Ring believes that can work for them.
“That’s true, I remember in 2001 when I was coach and John Considine was manager we played Galway who were going for three in a row.
“They had massive support because they were in the senior final too against Tipp. We turned that into our favour by becoming an almost enclosed group, saying that the whole world was against us, that can and it did work that day.
“I remember the Tipp support too, they brought us down the home straight and maybe Waterford will do the same for us on Sunday, I certainly hope so."
On a personal level and given the huge commitment involved, the Cork boss is grateful for everybody’s support, particularly his own family.
“Yes, there is a commitment but I have a very patient wife, Marie. She’s brilliant, a Dub herself who has a GAA background, her father played with Limerick.
“My kids embrace the GAA very much too and having that kind of support is vital and so important.
“It is time-consuming but there is a great camaraderie among the management team, that keeps you going too.
“It’s a challenge too, you get to challenge yourself too, you challenge the lads with you and it’s a great learning experience.
“The lads with me, Liam (Martin), Johnny (Dwyer), John (Mortell), and Fergus (Ryan), we learn from each other and that is great.
“It’s a collective effort, the rest of the lads on the backroom team too put in a huge effort. It was the same in Fermoy, the same with St Colman’s and in Blackwater too, you are always learning and bouncing off each other.
“There are days when you learn more in a defeat than in a win but all you want to do is to hope that a fellow might be better because of something you might do. If some of these fellows go on to play senior with Cork, you will get satisfaction from that too, that kind of thing.
"We face a massive challenge on Sunday against Galway but we believe these lads are ready. They have been brilliant for us up to now and, hopefully, that can continue on Sunday.’’