ABUNDANT character has been a feature of all Cork hurling teams this season and their ability to respond when danger loomed illustrates a new found confidence throughout.
In the three senior championship games against Tipperary, Waterford and Clare, goals were scored against them by John McGrath, Maurice Shanahan and Conor McGrath respectively which threw the cat among the pigeons to some. However, on each occasion, the heads stayed high and the mission was accomplished.
In the drawn minor game against Tipperary in Thurles, the home side looked home and dry deep into stoppage time when they led by a goal only for Na Piarsaigh youngster Evan Sheehan to drill home an equaliser.
Last Thursday night in Walsh Park in the U21 game against Waterford the Cork goose looked cooked when they trailed by two points going into the fifth minute of stoppage time. The game looked up until a last gasp penalty was manufactured and awarded.
When the new penalty rule of one against one was introduced the perception was that it would be a whole pile easier to convert a goal and that the odds considerably favoured the taker.
Well, in a lot of instances so far the opposite has proven to be the case and only last Sunday week we saw Clare’s Tony Kelly failing to convert against Anthony Nash.
So the odds were still not great on Declan Dalton doing the business for Cork and for one so young the pressure on him must have been enormous.
But there wasn’t a bother and he drove an unstoppable shot past Billy Nolan in the Waterford goal.
It was another illustration of a Cork team playing right to the death to secure the victory and that has been a hallmark of all teams this season and something that, obviously, has been instilled into them by their management teams.
As a result, three Munster titles have already been claimed and the U21 team has now given themselves a fighting chance of making that four in the Gaelic Grounds next Wednesday week.
One can travel back in time to 20 years ago when Cork snatched a desperately late goal in Thurles against Tipperary in an U21 game with Timmy McCarthy the hero on that night.
We all know where that goal led to and the successes that were achieved by that U21 team and subsequently the senior team.
It has been a remarkable couple of months for Cork hurling at all levels, starkly contrasting to last season when any team could not even buy a win.
Now the season has been opened up substantially on all fronts and the various teams have put themselves in a very strong position to claim more silverware.
In the past Cork teams worked independently of each other, there was no great liaison between the team managements and they got on with it on their own.
That has all changed this year with all the teams and their managements working alongside each other.
That is very much the case with the seniors and U21s with John Meyler being the very strong link between the two.
Last Wednesday night in Walsh Park you had senior star Anthony Nash driving long balls into the Cork goalmouth before the commencement of the match.
Everybody is working with each other and that’s the way it should be, rubbing off on one and other’s shoulders.
A lot is expected from this Cork U21 team, mainly because of the fact that so many senior panelists are involved.
However, it does not always follow that way and sometimes senior players do not stand out when they drop down to under-21 level.
And that was the case in Walsh Park with Darragh Fitzgibbon the only one that really made a significant mark.
He took on huge responsibility when the hard questions were posed and he will be a substantial loss in the final if his late sending off in that game results in a suspension.
That and Luke Meade’s loss through injury would rob Cork of two vital players going into the Gaelic Grounds against a Limerick team that has already blown Tipperary and Clare out of the water.
However, the panel is strong and you had Eoghan Healy, Tim O’Mahony, David Lowney and Jack O’Connor coming in as substitutes in Walsh Park and making a contribution.
It is going to be another huge ask of John Meyler’s team to come out on to the Ennis Road with the trophy but there’s that character and sheer inner belief now running through all Cork teams that you would give them every chance.
In fact one could say that everything Cork hurling touches right now is turning to gold and at every level of the game in the county there is a new found confidence.
Christy Ring once commented that without Cork hurling competing at the highest level the game is only half dressed and how right he was.
The game on a national level needs Cork hurling teams heavily involved going into August and September, something that has not been the case in more recent times.
The players, first and foremost, deserve the utmost credit but behind every good team is an equally good management team.
Anin in Kieran Kingston, John Meyler, and Denis Ring and down to John Considine, Sean Crowley and Donal Burke at U17 level, you have good, strong, honest men.
It’s been a long time since all the Cork hurling teams were still contending for honours at this juncture in the year.
And through no fault of their own and without having played a game, the Cork intermediates can win the season’s first All-Ireland next Sunday when they take on Kilkenny in the final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 2pm.
The good times are rolling again and that rising tide is lifting every boat.