Minors have ensured Cork hurling is still on the rise

Minors have ensured Cork hurling is still on the rise
Seán O’Leary Hayes gets away from Dublin players Seán Currie and Ben Coffeey. Picture: Dan Linehan

DAIRE Connery, Seán O'Leary Hayes and Brian Turnbull... three reasons the future is still bright for Cork hurling after the disappointment of the senior loss to Waterford.

That's not to heap pressure on the most consistent performers this season in the minor side that will take on Galway at Croke Park on September 3, but they have shown genuine potential all summer. It really would be a major surprise if they don't hurl at senior level for Cork once they stay fit and focused.

Roll on a few years and we could easily see a Cork team along these lines:

Pa Collins; Colm Spillane, Damien Cahalane, Seán O'Leary Hayes; Chris Joyce, Mark Ellis, Mark Coleman; Darragh Fitzgibbon, Daire Connery; Luke Meade, Conor Lehane, Shane Kingston; Alan Cadogan, Tim O'Mahony, Brian Turnbull.

That's throwing in Pa Collins and Tim O'Mahony from the U21s along with the younger crew, while Deccie Dalton is another real option on the basis of his astonishing 1-12 haul in beating Waterford at Walsh Park.

Getting to the biggest stage will stand to all of the minors in the future, something Cork's best young guns haven't had in recent years. This despite having some very decent teams, 2010, '13 and '15.

Indeed winning the Munster semi-final against Tipp and last Sunday's All-Ireland semi against Dublin were more important than the Munster title they lifted in style back in July. Whatever happens now a squad of Rebel hurlers will have experienced all the major occasions, the intensity on the field and expectation off it, the summer has to offer.

Cork manager Denis Ring and coach John Dwyer prior to their clash with Dublin. Picture: Dan Linehan
Cork manager Denis Ring and coach John Dwyer prior to their clash with Dublin. Picture: Dan Linehan

First up of course they've an All-Ireland showdown against the Tribe next month, with the chance to make history as the first winners from Leeside since rugby international Tomás O'Leary captained the 2001 crop which included Setanta Ó hAilpín, John Gardiner and Fraggie Murphy.

Already Cork have bridged the gap to 2007 when the minors last made the final. That team included Lorcán McLoughlin, Luke O'Farrell and Stephen McDonnell, but lost to a Tipp side powered by Noel McGrath, Bonner Maher, James Barry, Pádraic Maher, Brendan Maher and Michael Cahill. Now that was a serious crop, adding U21 and senior medals to their haul after.

We can't yet say if the current Cork minors will enjoy the same rich success, or even beat a fancied Galway in three weeks, but given the U17s won the All-Ireland already, this is certainly a talented bunch.

The Cork team who beat Dublin last Sunday. Picture: Dan Linehan
The Cork team who beat Dublin last Sunday. Picture: Dan Linehan

The impression Connery, O'Leary Hayes and Turnbull have made, along with the likes of Evan Sheehan, the Roche twins and Ger Millerick, has added to the hurling feelgood factor on Leeside. And that shouldn't be undermined by the Déise defeat, even if that last 15 minutes was a horror show.

With five newcomers nailing down championship berths at senior level the senior management clearly showed that if you're good enough, you're old enough. Hopefully Kieran Kingston and co will all remain on board for at least a two-year term to ensure continuity and maintain a sustained push for Liam McCarthy.

With senior selector John Meyler also acting as U21 boss, there is a clear conduit between those panels. From next year minor drops to U17, creating a four-year cycle at U21 which only increases the importance of the age in terms of player development. Connery for example, only turned 17 last month.

As precocious as the Piarsaigh dynamo is, he needs to be nurtured too.

Daire Connery celebrates at the final whistle last weekend. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan
Daire Connery celebrates at the final whistle last weekend. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O'Sullivan

The core of the U21s will be involved with various teams from Harty Cup to freshers to Fitzgibbon Cup, but good communication and solid guidance will keep the best Leesiders on the right path.

Clearly now there is an avenue for Cork's young guns to push into the mix at senior. The rookies refreshed the Cork team this season and are all capable of getting even better.

While the Waterford loss was galling after such an outstanding Munster championship victory, Shane Kingston was Cork's best forward apart the outstanding Patrick Horgan, while Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon were two of the main leaders in the second half. Only Luke Meade was off the pace, which coming back from injury was understandable, and Colm Spillane had been solid until the Cork rearguard lost its shape when Damien Cahalane was sent off.

Darragh Fitzgibbon scores a sideline.
Darragh Fitzgibbon scores a sideline.

There are issues for Cork to work on clearly. Losing to Waterford means Cork have only managed one semi-final victory at Croker in 10 years, in 2013, and were well beaten against Kilkenny twice, plus Tipp and now Waterford. For all the defensive strides they made, Damien Cahalane should have held his discipline before getting a second yellow and the first two goals were very preventable.

Up front, Cork didn't have the muscle to cope with the Déise aggression. More heft, as much as youthful enthusiasm, will be required to push on to the next level.

Waterford's Conor Gleeson and Conor Lehane. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Waterford's Conor Gleeson and Conor Lehane. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

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