A Cork U20 hurling win over Tipp would be the Christmas boost we need

After a disappointing 2020, supporters could do with a boost
A Cork U20 hurling win over Tipp would be the Christmas boost we need

Cork U20 defenders Daire O'Leary and Ciarán Joyce were in top form against Limerick. Next up it's a Munster final against Tipp. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

A MUNSTER final between the greatest rivals in hurling under floodlights on the smooth baize in revamped Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

A Christmas treat for sure.

It'll be a privilege, albeit a frost-bitten one, to be in the press box for Wednesday's Bord Gáis Energy Munster U20 clash between Cork and Tipperary. The shame is there won't be a crowd there but TG4 will be, providing their usual superb coverage of this grade.

TROLLEY DASH: Fans getting a view of the Cork and Kerry minor football game. Picture: James Crombie, INPHO
TROLLEY DASH: Fans getting a view of the Cork and Kerry minor football game. Picture: James Crombie, INPHO

Pat Ryan's side were in blistering form in extra time of the semi-final against Limerick. They were marginally the better team in normal time at the Gaelic Grounds but hit top gear in the additional 20-odd minutes to prevail by 14 points.

Subs Colin O'Brien and Brian Hayes scored heavily, but Shane O'Regan, Brian O'Sullivan and Pádraig Power also stood out. Rookie Darragh Flynn, top-scorer for the minors with 3-28 in four games in 2019, got on a bit of ball too.

Pádraig Power watches Jason Gillane of Limerick save his shot. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Pádraig Power watches Jason Gillane of Limerick save his shot. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Dáire Connery looked to be hurling with the confidence and class that marked him out as a serious prospect three years ago, while Shane Barrett, Alan Connolly, Ciarán Joyce and Daire O'Leary were very impressive as well.

There's a lot to like about this squad, drawn from a team that collected an All-Ireland at Croke Park, the one-off U17 title in 2017 before minor dropped a year. 

It could well end in more Cork hurling heartbreak of course. Since whipping Tipp in the 2019 provincial decider, Cork lost successive All-Ireland finals at U21/U20 to the Premier, as well as a Munster final after a killer Jake Morris goal in between.  

And by God could the Rebels do with a bit of silverware and passage to the All-Ireland final on January 9 against the Leinster champions. A heavy loss for a fancied Cork minor team against Limerick, after the seniors' poor campaign, was the latest disappointment.

Cork's Jack Cahalane in action against Limerick's Mark Quinlan. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Cork's Jack Cahalane in action against Limerick's Mark Quinlan. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Watching the outstanding Christy Ring: Man and Balldocumentary was bittersweet. Leeside teams, before, during and after the era when Ring was king, intimidated their rivals by their Corkness. 

Dr Con Murphy recalled Ring as selector sending the great team of the 1970s out through the dressing room with the cry: "We're from Cork". That was used to be enough to guarantee performances of swagger, skill and just enough steel.

It's a different world now in every sense, on and off the pitch. As has been well documented, Cork haven't won an All-Ireland at U21 since 1998. Since 2010, apart from a lone success for Galway, that trophy has stayed in Munster.

Tipp (three times), Clare (also three), Limerick (twice) and Waterford all received the boost an underage All-Ireland provides. Cork desperately needs that same shot of confidence.

For Pat Ryan and his selectors, they would have spent the weekend deciding how to reshape the line-up after the Limerick display, while also retaining a bit of firepower in reserve.

As infuriating as the Cork minor football loss to Kerry was in Tralee, and the lopsided free county in the hosts' favour, the Kingdom got a better return from their bench, especially the five points via Darragh O'Sullivan. 

The Cork footballers left dejected after the loss to Kerry last week. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
The Cork footballers left dejected after the loss to Kerry last week. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

The Tipp U20 hurlers survived a real scare from Waterford in their semi-final with an injection of pace and goals. 

St Finbarr's dual player Brian Hayes, a son of former Cork footballer Paddy, came in to hit 1-2 against Kerry in the quarter-final back in October and then 1-4 up in Limerick. His excellence in the role means he'll probably be a super-sub again.

Shane O'Regan and Colin O'Brien, who started in Kerry but not against Limerick, could return to the first 15, but Cork need more from Tommy O'Connell and Seán Twomey, who is only returning from injury. 

Tommy O'Connell battles for the sliotar. Picture: Brendan Gleeson
Tommy O'Connell battles for the sliotar. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

Both were excellent in the U20 campaign in 2019 and are well capable of hitting those heights again.

The game could hinge on preventing Tipp from raising green flags. Cork were stunned by five goals in last season's U20 All-Ireland final loss and this year's Premier crop stuck five past Waterford last Tuesday.

The Rebel rearguard from Eoin Davis in goal outwards, has been solid to date, but this will be a bigger test. If they pass it, Cork will be champions. 

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