SATURDAY: Munster U20 semi-final, Limerick v Cork, Gaelic Grounds, 4.30pm. Live on TG4.
AFTER a lot of uncertainty, the Munster U20 hurling championship resumes over the weekend.
Cork have a championship game under their belt and, as was anticipated, they overcame Kerry in the opening round, but the expectation is that this will be a much tougher assignment.
It’s a huge weekend for hurling on Shannonside and the U20s would love to set the right tone at the Gaelic Grounds.
To be fair, the Kingdom team in that opening assignment two months ago gave a very good account of themselves, but Cork had the quality when it was required and they won convincingly, 2-24 to 2-10.
That’s a good scoring return on any day, but in the aftermath of that game, Cork boss, Pat Ryan, was keeping things in perspective.
“We’d be disappointed with our efforts, at times. We were very poor in the first quarter and went with the long ball too much,” Ryan said.
“Our work-rate was down, as well, but we were better in the second and third quarters. I suppose, we went into the game as red-hot favourites and that might have affected our mindset.
“We will need a huge improvement against Limerick and the mindset will have to change.”
A number of hugely talented players did not feature against Kerry: Dáire Connery, and the Blarney contingent of Padraig Power, Shane Barrett, and Declan Hanlon, plus Courceys' Sean Twomey.
But their likely availability now creates plenty of options for the management, as well as some welcome selection headaches.
Cork had nine scorers in Tralee, with Bride Rovers’ Brian Roche the top, with 1-3.
Midleton’s Tommy O’Connell put over five points, whilst Watergrasshill duo, Daire O’Leary and Shane O’Regan, shared seven points from play.
Substitute Brian Hayes, from the Barrs, put his hand up, too, with a return of 1-2. Defensively, a number of players performed very well, with Castlemartyr’s Ciarán Joyce showing his potential at centre-back.
Dromtariffe’s Conor O’Callaghan made his mark, as well, at right corner-back, and while Cork did take some time to settle, there was reason for cautious optimism.
In Cork’s favour, going into this contest in the Gaelic Grounds, is that they have that game in Tralee behind them. That’s a major plus, even if the victory, in the end, was comprehensive and even if it was a game the team was always expected to win.
In recent years, the Gaelic Grounds has not been a happy hunting ground for Cork teams at this level. For two years running in the All-Ireland final they came a cropper against Tipperary, the first year after they had hammered the Premier County in Munster.
Limerick had played one or two practice games before the shutdown, under team boss, Paul Beary, a former Na Piarsaigh manager, from Limerick, who was also a selector during TJ Ryan’s stint as Limerick senior boss.
Beary has former Limerick players alongside him on the sideline, Paul Browne and James Ryan.
The side is expected to contain some highly-rated players, including the captain, Jack Ryan, and senior panellist, Mark Quinlan, who is expected to line out at centre-back.
Dylan O’Shea is highly thought of on Shannonside and Cathal O’Neill is regarded as one of the best players available to the management.
In normal circumstances, playing at home would benefit Limerick, but, of course, now it’s empty stadiums for all teams.
This Cork squad is very highly thought of and many regard it as one of the best-assembled for a while.
The strength in depth was illustrated in Tralee in the quality of the absentees and the competition for places is immense.
Normally, the status quo would prevail and a winning team would go unchanged, but the likelihood is that there will be a few changes made here.
Limerick hurling is strong, with a huge buzz around before Sunday’s big day against Waterford, and Cork will be wary of what awaits them.
However, given the balance and the quality in all departments, the expectation is that Cork will prevail to qualify for a Munster final against Tipperary or Waterford.
Tipp, on the basis of their win over Clare, will be favourites in that game.
Here, the vote goes to Cork.