Cork U20 hurlers showed there's no substitute for having a strong panel

Cork U20 hurlers showed there's no substitute for having a strong panel

Cork's Brian Roche is hooked by Limerick's Sean Long, which sent the U20 Munster semi-final to extra time. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

IN years to come, it will hopefully be a trivia question of note – which team, en route to winning an All-Ireland title, played a game where they scored more in the 20 minutes of extra time than they did in the 60 minutes of normal time?

We’re projecting slightly – two more wins would be needed for a key part of that question to materialise – but the Cork U20 hurling team surely set some kind of record in seeing off their Limerick counterparts at the LIT Gaelic Grounds on Saturday evening.

After a Limerick fightback at the end of normal time, the Shannonsiders had 0-17 to Cork’s 1-14, but the additional 20 minutes was very one-sided, with Cork outscoring the hosts by 1-15 to 0-4.

Hearteningly, there was a noticeable scoring impact from players brought on – Brian Hayes, Colin O’Brien, Shane O’Regan and Brian O’Sullivan all came on and accounted for a tally of 1-12 between them. All too often in recent times, Cork senior sides have found themselves outscored heavily in the subs category, so hopefully this is a positive sign for the future.

That the win came at the Ennis Road venue also provides some solace in terms of recent disappointment. Aside from the senior defeat to Tipperary there last month, the last All-Ireland U21 final in 2018 and first U20 decider in 2019 were losses there for Cork against the Premier County.

Aaron Walsh Barry on the ball. Picture: Brendan Gleeson
Aaron Walsh Barry on the ball. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

It could be Tipp who provide the opposition for Cork in the Munster final on December 23 – they face Waterford tomorrow night in the other semi-final – but, whichever one of the two Cork face, they will surely go in with heightened belief after the maturity shown in refusing to allow Limerick get a foothold after their late escape act in normal time.

Taking the U21 and U20 grade as the same competition, it is one that has been something of a millstone for Cork for more than two decades. After consecutive victories in 1997 and 1998 provided a stream of talent that would go on to win senior titles in 1999, 2004 and 2005, Cork have failed to add to their tally of 11, which still keeps them at the top of the roll of honour, alongside Kilkenny and Tipperary.

The last U21 final in 2018 was definitely one that got away as Cork, having romped through Munster, lost to the defeated provincial finalists Tipp in the decider. Then, last year, the first of the U20 grade, it was the same outcome in the All-Ireland, though in this case Tipp had also denied Cork the Munster crown.

Back in 2017, when the minor grade was changing from U18 to U17, a separate one-off U17 competition was run for the players would be ‘missing out’ and Cork, managed by John Considine, went all the way in that, beating Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final and Dublin in the decider.

Sam Quirke fire a Cork point from Colin Coughlan, Limerick. Picture: Brendan Gleeson
Sam Quirke fire a Cork point from Colin Coughlan, Limerick. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

While there won’t be any All-Ireland hurling title won by Cork in the 2020 calendar year, but the 2020 season may yet prove to be a fruitful one for the county.

Unfortunately, any dreams of mirroring the minor-U20 football double of 2019 in hurling this time around have been ended following the minor hurlers’ heavy loss to Limerick earlier on Saturday, with Thurles the venue.

You’d have to feel very sorry for this group of players, who won a national title at U16 level under Jamie Wall in 2019 and who, at the start of the year, would have expected four Munster championship games in a round-robin format.

That was before Covid, of course. Form at minor level is an even more nebulous thing than it is for adult players and Cork were having to pick up two months after beating Clare in their championship opener.

Leading by 0-9 to 0-7 against the defending champions was a good return after 23 minutes, but two quick goals from Limerick turned the game irrevocably their way and it can often be the way that matches deviate dramatically from what would have been expected. Limerick are a good side, but it’s unlikely that a meeting between them and Cork tomorrow would produce as one-sided a scoreline as 2-19 to 0-13.

Nevertheless, that is what happened and it is a lesson, albeit a tough one, for the players. The best response is to make sure that it is one they learn from.

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