Donal Óg: It was important minors were given the chance to represent Cork

Donal Óg: It was important minors were given the chance to represent Cork

Cork’s Eoin Downey wins a high ball against Clare back in October. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

AND we're back as Cork minor hurlers travel to Thurles on Saturday to take on Limerick in the Munster semi-final at 1pm.

They were in action on October 17 against Clare in the quarter-final, but then we had our second lockdown and underage games couldn't take place.

So the momentum that Cork might have hoped to gain from that outing is very much gone and doesn't count for anything tomorrow.

It has been a long year for this young squad, with minor now being U17 at inter-county level and also at club level from next season.

They started out with 150 players around this time last year and whittled that down to 40 before the first lockdown.

At that stage, they kept it at 40 and it was only after they could return to group training that the 40 became 30, with 24 allowed to travel on match days.

The big question at one point was would there be a minor championship this season?

Then a chink of light and the go-ahead was given and as spirits lifted they dropped again with lockdown, part two. But Cork manager Donal Óg Cusack doesn't see this as a challenge to him or the squad.

Cork minor manager Donal Óg Cusack. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cork minor manager Donal Óg Cusack. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

“I was always hopeful that the championship would go ahead and we had to adapt to what was going on. But that's the way society is and I think we have all become acclimatised to it. That's just the way it has been, we have had to react and adapt.

“But I was always hopeful that this would happen, for no other reason than the lads themselves. We (selectors) are a bit older and I have done my hurling. Playing minor is a special thing and a special part of a hurler's development. It would have been a shame for them if they weren't able to play this year.

“So I'm delighted it's going ahead and delighted to be going to Thurles. We know it's an unusual time of the year to be playing and maybe 15-20 years ago I played a few league matches around this time before Christmas.

“But having said that any day you are going to Thurles is a special day and we are all looking forward to it.

“We played the Clare game and we were talking about the training session and then things shut down again, but we dealt with it as best as possible and just delighted to be getting the opportunity to play.

“It's important for these young players' mental health as well that they get this opportunity to play. When you are at that age you can be easily influenced as they are starting off on their journey as players and in life in general.

“We have been really conscious of the impact this has had, not being able to do all the things they would normally do, from meeting their friends to games.

“Thankfully they got to play club championships with their clubs and hopefully now we will be able to get to play this championship to a conclusion.

“We have only been back training since last week, but it's the same for all so no side has momentum going into the semi-finals and we are just happy to be there."

Tomorrow Glen Rovers' Eoin Downey will lead the side out and they will be hoping the influence he had in the Clare game continues against Limerick. But this is not just a talented team, it's a talented squad with subs like William Buckley and Jack Leahy having a big influence when they came on the last day.

Between them, they hit six points in Cork's 1-24 to 2-13 victory.

Add in the accuracy of Ben Cunningham from frees and the threat from Mark Howell, Eoin O'Leary, Alex Quirke and Brian Keating, who will all keep Limerick busy, and there's a threat from a number of areas.

Centre-back James Dwyer, Ballincollig, despite being just 16 is a powerful presence around the middle of the pitch. Defensively Ben O'Connor has has an outstanding season for his club St Finbarr's and was a major factor in their minor championship title win. He carried that form into the Clare tie and will need to continue it again tomorrow.

With no form to judge by it's impossible to call but Cork will be the slightly fancied side to advance to the final against Tipp or Waterford, which is scheduled for December 20.

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