FOR the youngsters in the set-up, the return to O’Moore Park tomorrow will evoke memories of one of the happiest days of their fledgling football careers.
Mind you, the opening stages of the All-Ireland U20 final against Dublin over the August weekend in 2019 didn’t appear promising after Cork fell 1-6 behind.
But Keith Ricken’s side settled and went on to record a famous 3-16 to 1-14 victory to produce a much needed All-Ireland title with watching senior manager Ronan McCarthy suitably impressed.
He didn’t wait to usher in a new era in Cork football by adding a whole clutch of players from that U20 side, which also inflicted a big defeat on Kerry in the Munster final. It was all part of the regeneration after Cork slipped out of Division 2 for the first time in its long and distinguished history to engage the third tier last season.
McCarthy wasted no time in handing out senior debuts for the first Division 3 league game against Offaly at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Into the team came corner-back Paul Ring (Aghabullogue), midfielder Brian Hartnett (Douglas), who was at right half-forward, and the inside pair of Damien Gore (Kilmacabea) and Cathail O’Mahony (Mitchelstown).
A fifth player, Eire Og’s Colm O’Callaghan, was introduced from the bench in the second half as Cork started with a 0-20 to 0-13 victory.
Gore and O’Mahony had lit up a brilliant U20 attack, both contributing 0-4 apiece against the Dubs with O’Callaghan one of the three goal-scorers along with Mark Cronin (Nemo Rangers) and Blake Murphy (St Vincent’s).
Full-back Maurice Shanley (Clonakilty) became the sixth player to earn his spurs during the league as Cork duly clinched promotion back to Division 2 in a season, which began on the last Saturday in January and only concluded in late October.
A crazy season was reflected in the decision by Longford to concede a walk-over in their dead rubber game because of a pending Leinster championship tie.
As for the Munster equivalent, Cork handed three debuts for the daunting semi-final against Kerry, when Shanley, O’Callaghan and another newcomer, Sean Meehan (Kiskeam), who didn’t feature in the league, lined up to face the hot favourites. Gore’s introduction near the end of extra-time in that dramatic conclusion increased the number of new faces to four.
In the ill-fated final against Tipperary, Ring joined Shanley and Meehan in defence to make it five championship debutants and O’Mahony’s entry from the bench made it six. The Mitchelstown sharp-shooter finished the league as Cork’s leading scorer with 0-18, 10 from frees, and O’Mahony started the new league season in similar form with 0-6 against Kildare.
Two more players from the U20 class, Cronin and Murphy, were in the panel for the game last week in Thurles with Murphy making his senior debut in the second half. The Cork starting 15 was also notable for the inclusion of Daniel O’Mahony (Knocknagree), who was full-back on the U20 side, which lost to Kerry in last season’s Munster final in Tralee.
There was also a debut for Cill na Martra’s Dan Ó Duinnín, who replaced the injured Brian Hurley early in the second-half against Kildare. Ó Duinnín first came to prominence with Cork minors in 2015 before progressing to the U21s, where he continued to impress with his skills in attack.
The defeat to Kildare has resulted in Cork slipping down the betting for those two coveted promotion places with Division 2 north leaders Mayo and Meath joined by Kildare.
Mayo opened with an impressive win over Down last weekend while Meath clung on for a one-point over neighbours Westmeath. James Horan’s side are evens with the bookies to make an immediate return to division 1 in 2021 with Meath and Kildare quoted 4/1 followed by Cork at eights.
This weekend Mayo head to Mullingar to face Westmeath with Meath travelling to play Down in Newry. Two away wins will clinch the top places and ensure Mayo and Meath reach the promotion playoffs against the leading counties in the south section.
Kildare will secure one of those places by defeating Clare in Newbridge on Sunday.
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