BRIAN Turnbull’s dynamic display up top was the highlight of Cork’s mauling of Waterford at Páirc Uí Rinn.
The Rebels excelled in every line of the field and in every facet of their play, notwithstanding the poverty of the opposition, but Turnbull was the clear standout in the number 15 geansaí. He clipped over 10 points, seven from play from either side and three frees, two of which he was hauled back for.
The Douglas native marked his card last season when the southsiders won the inaugural Premier U21 county, nabbing 0-3 in the final against Blackrock, and he was pretty unmarkable here. There were a few feints and shimmies Ronaldo would have been proud of to maximise his neat touch, while his shot selection and striking were exceptional too.
It must be said the ball in was top quality. Daire Connery was in typically rangy form at midfield, while James Keating, Conor O’Callaghan and Ger Millerick hit some fine deliveries from defence. Liam O’Shea, one after an electric turn of his own, and Craig Hanifin rifled 0-3 from play each from half-forward but they clearly heeded the management’s instructions to find their inside men too.
Indeed Cork didn’t hit a single wide until 45 minutes in, and just three overall. It helped they had a towering target man in the Glen’s Robert Downey and a number of scores, including Brian Roche’s well-taken goal, broke off the full-forward.
Yet as brilliant Turnbull, and Cork in general, were in drilling the Déise by 19 points, the season will hinge on a trip to Tipp next month. This is the third year in a row, and fourth in five seasons, that the Cork minor hurlers have looked the part in the opening round, but the next phase is knockout.
Tipp, along with Cork, are considered to be the likely All-Ireland contenders from the province, but it’s a win or bust in Thurles at the end of June for a place in the Munster final. Granted Cork haven’t been able to deliver in the provincial semi-final in the modern era – their last win stretching back to 2008 – but the system is crazy.
Waterford, so awful against Cork in registering a single point from play and hammered by Clare in the opening round, get a third chance against Limerick, beaten already by Tipp. Cork, Clare and Tipp don’t have the same luxury. Still, the front door route is the one these young Rebels have to take and they are capable of kicking it down.
Whatever happens down the line, credit where it’s due for this offering. Manager Denis Ring has vast experience at this level and his charges were well tuned in. Coach John Dwyer had them hurling smoothly but also working hard on and off the ball. There could be no arguments with the team selectors John Mortell, Liam Martin and Fergus Ryan picked with Ring and Dwyer, while Stephen Casey’s gym programme means they’re strong and fit.
There is some serious talent coming through on Leeside these days, even if it hasn’t translated to minor or U21 silverware lately. The U17s won the Munster crown last week and the Roche twins, Eoin and Brian, Conor O’Callaghan, and Connery featured there.
Many of these players have lifted trophies from U14 onwards for the Development Squads at summer tournaments in recent years, while Midleton CBS and St Colman’s decent Harty Cup campaigns have clearly stood to the likes of dogged midfielder Diarmuid Lenihan, the lively O’Shea and captain O’Leary-Hayes.
It’s more fashionable to knock Cork hurling than praise it, and this is just another small step on what has become a tougher road to recovery than finding a safe haven in The Walking Dead TV show. Yet Cork are slowly reaping the rewards from the work being done by clubs, schools and county board GDAs – especially in their case as they are under-resourced.
There’s no justification in getting carried away with trimming Waterford, as they were so poor, but it was a job well done. They might need a bit more of a goal threat to defeat Tipp but Evan Sheehan is capable of cutting loose in tandem with Turnbull there.
By all accounts the panel is highly competitive so that should ensure they’re steeled for the challenge on the horizon.