THE Cork senior hurlers may be the surprise hit of the summer, so far, but the Cork minors will be looking to show that there is more than one quality Cork team knocking about at present, when they play Tipperary in Semple Stadium on Thursday in the Munster semi-final.
Cork managed to see off Waterford by 1-24 to 0-8 in their match against Waterford at Páirc Uí Rinn, last time out, without having to call upon the likes of Jack Twomey, Jamie Corkery, David Jones, Liam Gosnell, Jordan Murray, Shane Finn and Ben Keohane, who were all not even on the panel the last day. The quality of that bunch alone stresses the wealth of talent within the 2017 Cork minors.
Any side backboned by Ger Collins in goals, Midleton full back Sean O’Leary Hayes, Kildorrery’s James Keating at centre back, the wonderful ball striking midfield pairing of Daire Connery and Diarmuid Lenihan, and an attack boasting a perfect blend of speed, power and workrate in the likes of Craig Hanafin, Brian Turnbull, Evan Sheehan, Brian Roche, Robert Downey and Liam O’Shea has to fancy their chances, even if the opposition they are facing are the current All-Ireland Champions at this grade who also contain a number of Harty Cup winners within their ranks.
This clash of Tipperary v Cork could well be a meeting of the two best minor teams in the country at present, with one of them getting knocked out of the championship this week, while the other will get to experience the razzmatazz of Munster hurling final day, as well as potentially a couple of life defining trips to Croke Park later this summer, and could well end up as All-Ireland Champions. That, unfortunately, is the nature of the minor hurling championship as it is currently designed.
No matter what the result on Thursday night it is a safe bet to say that we will all be looking back on this Cork minor team selection in a few years time and counting the notable amount of seniors that emerged from it. The 2015 minors failed to make the Munster Final but that vintage included Mark Coleman, Shane Kingston, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Robbie O’Flynn, Patrick Collins, David Griffin, Michael O’Halloran and Chris O’Leary, even if Kingston’s broken leg that year seriously curtailed that side’s ambitions. Therefore, a loss on Thursday would not necessarily be the end of the world for this bunch of minors, although obviously it would be preferable if they got to a Munster Final in a few weeks and went on to experience championship hurling in Croke Park later in the year.
Waterford had to be beaten three times before finally being put out of their collective misery by Limerick a few weeks ago, after earlier losing heavily to both Clare and Cork. On the other hand, either of the unbeaten pair of Cork or Tipperary will be sent packing from the championship next Thursday night after just the one loss.
Waterford registered 25 scores in the three games they played in this year’s championship. Cork scored 25 times in their one outing so far. It is just bizarre in the extreme that Waterford got three chances whereas both Cork and Tipp effectively have one.
Whoever designed the structure, that has been used in the Munster minor championship for a number of years now, should be examined closely by men in white coats, and I don’t mean by a bunch of umpires.
And the thing is, it is not that difficult to come up with a workable structure for the Munster minor championship, which is to be the U17 championship next year of course.
Here, try this one for starters.
Ideally you would have a round robin system where all five counties – Cork, Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Waterford – play each other once before progressing to the knock-out stages, meaning each side gets four games, but with school and exams etc. that is not feasible and too unwieldy.
It is possible, however, to have ‘half’ of a round robin series.
Let me explain.
The current structure is designed the way it is to ensure that each county gets at least a second chance, and because there are five counties involved it means that some counties are always going to get more chances than others, as can be seen with the Waterford example this year.
It is possible, however, to ensure that every county gets at least two games without ensuring the championship structure gets itself caught up in knots.
If each county played two games against any of the other four sides in Munster then each side would have played an equal number of games, and you could base qualification to the Munster semi-final off a league table based on these games.
Let me explain further.
This system would be based on a draw where the counties would be randomly drawn against each other, so each side plays twice, and twice only. As there are five counties in the championship it works out perfectly in this sense. The obvious draw back is that one county might get a tougher draw than another, as you are essentially creating a league where everyone plays only half the teams in that league, but that will be the luck of the draw. Each county will get to play two games. If you happen to draw the best two sides in Munster in that given year and lose then you might feel hard done by, but ultimately you couldn’t have too many complaints as your side clearly just was not good enough in that year.
See below a list of potential fixtures in the proposed structure.
Cork v Tipp & Waterford Limerick v Clare & Tipp Waterford v Clare & Cork Tipp v Cork & Limerick Clare v Limerick & Waterford After all matches are played off the top four could play-off in a seeded semi-final type format, with the bottom side eliminated, or you could just qualify the top two sides straight in the final, although the semi-final format would probably work best.
It is all well and good proposing alternative structures. That is of no benefit to the Cork minors this Thursday, however. Instead, they must go into the Lion’s Den that is Semple Stadium against Tipperary and take out the reigning champions if they want to preserve their minor championship lives.