GIVEN it’s his fourth year involved, selector Liam Martin would be forgiven for feeling pretty satisfied heading into this Sunday’s All-Ireland final.
Of course they want to win and complete the perfect season, but seeing as Cork haven’t even reached the minor decider since 2007, the campaign has already been a success. Denis Ring and his selectors have given it everything to restore Cork’s fortunes at minor. All the credit should be shared according to the northsider.
“The county board, Rebel Óg, particularly, and all the people who are doing savage work in clubs everywhere deserve this. The minor team is only the end of a player’s underage career.
“It’s satisfying to be in the All-Ireland final because we felt for the last number of years we had Cork minor teams capable of competing with anyone but we needed a touch of luck to get there.”
That was certainly the case in the drawn Munster semi in Thurles. Fellow Glen club man Robert Downey saved Cork at the end of normal time and then Na Piarsaigh’s Evan Sheehan goaled a free at the death in extra time against Tipp.
“Munster semi-finals have been a minefield. There are ones we’ll regret for the rest of our lives that we should have won. We got the rub of the green but then I didn’t think we deserved to lose. That night in Thurles spoke volumes about the character of these lads.”
That set up a replay at Páirc Uí Rinn and a Munster final against Clare, where this young Cork team ripped it up. Ger Collins, Sean O'Leary Hayes, Brian Turnbull, Evan Sheehan and Daire Connery among the many stars. Martin acknowledges how much they fed off the hurling buzz in Leeside this summer.
“There’s been a huge feelgood factor all the way through to the senior team and that gave a boost of confidence for us too. We can all look forward to the future again as Cork hurling people, but that took a long process to get there.”
He explains that it’s especially enjoyable to be involved with this minor crop given their eagerness to learn and develop.
“They’re full of ability, character, commitment… the characteristics of any winning team basically.”
Everywhere you go in Cork, from Blackpool to Bandon and beyond, kids are out in force with hurleys again. Martin must take particular pride in seeing city hurlers, from Piarsaigh, Douglas and Glen, backboning this minor team.
“Personally I don’t care where they come from as long as they’re good enough.
“That’s where the Development Squads system have paid off. Would have got a corner-back from Dromtarriffe otherwise in Conor O’Callaghan? He’s been excellent.
“Of course you need the city to be thriving for Cork hurling to be successful – but it’s a big county and the gospel has spread all over Cork at this stage.
“Some of the schools have pushed on, Christians, Colman’s, Midleton CBS, the Mon AG, and that’s not undercutting what’s going on at B level. All that will come to the fore in the next couple of years and that’s only mirroring what’s going on in the clubs, participation rates – which the Cork seniors’ success will build further – are up.”
He makes the point that once the various sectors are co-ordinated, good hurlers will come through.
“The good fella at 14, 15 isn’t going to necessarily be the lad who shines at minor level. We do see late developers and quite a few of this group were in the B squad at U14 like Liam O’Shea, Brian Turnbull, Ger Mellerick. They’ve pushed on in the last few years.”
Can they seal the deal this Sunday, especially after a patchy enough showing in the semi against Dublin?
“Galway have won five minor All-Irelands and been beaten in four finals since we’ve won it in 2001. It’ll be tough. Simple as that.
“It’s vital to play the game not the occasion. We’ve preached that all year. There’s a lot of razzmatazz surrounding it and obviously Galway will have a big support as they’re in both finals. All our focus has been on our own performance though.”
Hopefully that will be enough.