ALL hurling fans love to see the emergence of young players who can step up and make their mark at the highest level.
The emergence of youth can instantly inject new life into a training group. Their enthusiasm and energy rub off on everybody.
There is certainly an air of freshness about this year’s Cork senior hurling panel, with Kieran Kingston and his selectors having given youth its fling during the recent Allianz League campaign.
There have been some famous examples of how the young generation have risen to the top in double quick time in the famed Blood and Bandage; Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s 1999 group being the standout team in that department in the relatively recent past.
As supporters across the county offer their own contrasting views as to who might make either the first fifteen and the bench for this weekend’s meeting with Limerick, there is a keen interest as to how many of the new young guns that were baptised in the league will make the championship panel.
One man who has been carefully monitoring every puck of the league campaign is Imokilly three-in-a-row winning manager Fergal Condon, who is now part of the Cork U20 management team.
“This group of U20s are very eager and I think a lot of them have put their hand up over the past few months,” said Condon about a group that will also play an All-Ireland U20 final, against Dublin, in July.
“Alan Connolly and Shane Barrett have really shown what they can do in the forward line and Daire Connery has certainly played his part in a number of games.
“Overall the six players involved have had the benefit of great training, being part of the senior set up.
“They certainly bring an extra dimension when they come back to play with us again. It would be really great to see these young guys progressing and in turn, we would love to see the senior team doing well.
“We feel it’s what Cork hurling needs is to have young players coming through. As a selection committee, we also feel there are a lot more players progressing who are not quite in the panel yet.
“Once the current U20 campaign concludes with the All-Ireland final, I’m sure Kieran Kingston will have a good look at many more of them.”
Fergal also suggests that the experience gained in training matches is invaluable to many of the young guns.
The in-house games have been great for these guys. To be included in a Cork senior setup at any time is a hugely beneficial experience in a player’s career.
“When you are still U20, it gives a real dash of extra excitement. A lot of our players are from relatively small areas and small clubs. With all that has gone on over the past 15 months with Covid, this has been a real boost to these young men.”
After studying Cork’s overall performances across their five league matches, he offered this pre-Munster Championship assessment.
“I’d say we probably all have mixed emotions. The first three games were very positive.
“Then there was a dip in form against Limerick with a much-changed team. I thought in the last match for 55 minutes against Galway, Cork were very competitive - that little bit of sharpness then seemed to have left them for the closing stages of the game.
“The positives to build from that game were to see Seamie Harnedy back on the field and to see Ger Millerick get back-to-back games after a lengthy layoff.
“To me, Cork have a free slap off Limerick in one way. The way we played the last day, Cork will have to raise their game and bring it to a new dimension.
“Obviously injuries have also played their part. Bill Cooper and Colm Spillane will, no doubt, have left no stone unturned in their efforts to try and get back to full fitness.
“I know both of them very well from Imokilly and their experience around the pitch would be crucial. In a young panel, there are two real leaders. I think it’s very important for Kieran that they can get back as soon as possible.”