SUNDAY drew the curtain on the inter-county hurling season and it was an encouraging one for Leesiders.
The U17s were All-Ireland and Munster champions, with the seniors and minors also collecting provincial silverware and the U21s making the final. At development squad level the six squads from U14 to U16 picked up four trophies.
Three were at B level, with only the U15 A outfit succeeding, but plenty of young guns push on from the second team. Just last weekend Liam O’Shea and Brian Turnbull were the primary threats up front for the minors in their loss to Galway.
They, along with Ger Millerick, from the B panel at U14 to starters at minor. Unfortunately for the group ‘on the age’, U18 was the only grade they didn’t become All-Ireland champions.
They're still nursing a few regrets you can be sure. Particularly annoying was the square ball incident, where it seemed the officials used the replay on the big screen to disallowed a goal after Robert Downey deflected Brian Roche’s delivery to the net.
Technically the decision was correct, but they didn’t review Galway’s second goal. Clearly those were decisive calls, but if we park that up, Cork didn’t hurl well enough to seal the deal.
They weren’t as strong in the air as Galway and even if both teams hooked and blocked ferociously in a game where the standard was extremely high, the Tribe edged the battle there. The crowd in for the senior crowd roared them over the line.
How many of the young Rebels were at their optimum? Brian Turnbull, for sure, Daire Connery, in the first half, Conor O’Callaghan, and Liam O’Shea – whose been an unsung hero with his assists all season. Keeper Ger Collins was brave in pulling down a few point attempts and Evan Sheehan buried a goal but was clearly hampered by his knee injury.
It was a tribute to the talent of this bunch, the preparation of the management, and their doggedness, they were left to rue missed chances when so many of the team were at 6/10 performance wise.
What will be interesting to track is where these hurlers go from here. Having reached a first All-Ireland minor final in 10 years and captured a first Munster in nine, this is obviously a panel loaded with potential.
That’s not to overstate things and compare them to a golden generation like Man United’s Class of 92 or anything, but Connery, Turnbull and O’Leary Hayes – despite hurling better in Munster than Croker – look destined for senior. Sheehan has the pace and eye for goal, and Ger Collins could end up in a joust for the number one geansaí after Anthony Nash with his older brother Patrick.
Then you’ve Conor O’Callaghan, James Keating, the Roche twins, Millerick, Downey, Craig Hanifin and more. Downey and Hanifin, like Deccie Dalton and Tim O’Mahony from the U21s, have obvious ball-winning attributes that should be nurtured even if their hurling needs refinement.
The implications of minor dropping to U17 in 2018 haven’t really been teased out yet. It means there are four years of hurlers for the U21 team for starters, but is that ideal for someone like Connery, who has only just started fifth year in Gaelcholáiste Mhuire AG?
Whatever about him, other prodigious hurlers could get lost in the mix.
The management term of Denis Ring and his selectors is over, but it would seem foolish to lose their expertise to Cork hurling. The talk is John Considine, who worked with Ring in 2001 when Cork won the minor All-Ireland, will stay on as U17 boss with Ring stepping aside.
If that happens could Ring link up with John Meyler at U21? Johnny Dwyer has been highly regarded as the coach of the minors and with his enthusiasm and ability to hone skills on the training field has to stay involved with Cork in some capacity.
There was a smooth and natural link between the Cork teams at U17, minor, U21 and senior this season and the rewards were evident in results. The Rebel Óg model underneath those marquee teams isn't flawless, but between steady progress at schools level and victories for the development squads, it’s working.
Let's refine and improve it. Starting with securing Kieran Kingston for another two years at the helm of the seniors.
2017 MINOR SCORERS:
Brian Turnbull 1-51 (0-24 f); Daire Connery 0-28 (0-17 f, 0-1 sl); Evan Sheehan 4-5 (1-0 f); Craig Hanifin 1-10; Liam O’Shea 1-9; Robert Downey 1-7; Brian Roche, Barry Murphy 1-3 each; Diarmuid Linehan 0-3; Sean O’Leary Hayes 0-2; Ger Millerick, John Geary, Conor O’Callaghan, Declan Hanlon, Brian Buckley 0-1 each.