Cork hurling underage production line working despite lack of All-Irelands

U20s have a chance to end the drought in July in the delayed final against Dublin or Galway
Cork hurling underage production line working despite lack of All-Irelands

Cork's Ciarán Joyce gets the ball away from Waterford's Johnny Burke in the 2019 minor championship. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

IT has future pub question written all over it, but should Cork win the delayed 2020 U20 All-Ireland hurling final on the weekend of July 10-11, and then lose the 2021 U20 Munster semi-final on July 20 they surely would have secured the honour of the shortest reign in GAA history.

Champions for eight or nine days. 

It’d certainly be one for the record books. Let’s hope that does not happen, well at least the second part anyway, as should Cork beat the winner of Tipperary and Waterford in that semi-final then it will have been the fifth year in a row that the Rebel U20/U21 hurlers have qualified for the Munster decider. This run is having a direct impact on the recently viewed resurgence in fortunes of the Cork senior team in recent weeks.

Cork may have only won two of those four Munster deciders, and right now have yet to kick on and secure an All-Ireland title at the grade – although we hope that anomaly is put to bed this July – those four sides have provided Cork with the bulk of their current panel.

Every single player in the panel from 25 years of age down featured on these sides. There are actually not that many in the Cork panel right now older than that.

In the 2017 Munster decider against Limerick the Rebels had to do without the injured Billy Hennessy and Luke Meade, and the suspended Darragh Fitzgibbon, but still fielded Patrick Collins, Mark Coleman, Sean O’Donoghue, Tim O’Mahony, Shane Kingston, Robbie O’Flynn and Declan Dalton, while Jack O’Connor came off the bench.

They lost by two points on that night, but to have 11 players from that team now involved shows how important this grade is in terms of developing players for senior level.

In 2018 Cork did win Munster but were sucker-punched in the All-Ireland final against Tipp to a late goal. 

13 of the 17 players used by Cork that day are now on the senior panel, and Daire Connery was used as an 18-year-old sub in earlier rounds too, to be the 14th current senior used that year.

The story was similar in 2019, with 8 of the side that lost that year’s All-Ireland Final in the senior panel now, and even the side that beat Tipp in the Munster decider on December 23rd last, there are already five of those involved in the form of Connery, Sean Twomey, Shane Barrett, Daire O’Leary and Alan Connolly.

The experience garnered by these players in big matches at U20/U21 level for Cork is clearly helping in terms of their development, and it is extremely interesting to note that of those four sides that reached Munster finals, only one of them reached their corresponding final at minor level, which was the 2019 crew, who were the last Munster minors at minor when it was still at U18 level in 2017.

Interesting Cork will be looking to continue this trend of qualifying for Munster U20 finals having failed to do so at minor level, for the next three years anyway, as Cork have missed out at minor level in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The 2021 U20 side will be a hybrid of the 2018 and 2019 minors. This is not even an opinion. 

We know this as some of the 2019 minors will be playing in All-Ireland Final in a few weeks, so it is a safe bet to assume they will backbone the 2021 side with the likes of Connery, Tommy O’Connell and the Roches now officially overage.

The 2018 minors failed to qualify for their Munster final only because of an inferior points difference, while in 2019, the minors also came up just short despite winning two and drawing one of their four games.

They were two near misses, but a quick check of the teams that Cork fielded in those years would suggest that for one reason or another Cork did not get their best sides out in those years. Ciarán Joyce of Castlemartyr did not make the team in 2018 at U17 level for instance, yet just two years later he was the starting centre-back on a victorious Munster final winning team at U20 level. 

Dylan O'Shea, Limerick, under pressure from Daire O'Leary. Picture: Brendan Gleeson
Dylan O'Shea, Limerick, under pressure from Daire O'Leary. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

Similarly, Watergrasshill’s Daire O’Leary only started one game, in attack, in 2019, yet a year later he has impressed at wing-back on the U20s to such an extent that he was called up to Kieran Kingston’s senior panel. 

Alan Connolly also only started one game three years ago at minor. It is safe to say he is higher up in the pecking order now.

So, while the 2018 minors came up short, there is no reason why Cork can’t overcome that fact at U20 three years later and keep the recent record at this level going by at least reaching another provincial decider.

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