In any successful dressing room – and some unsuccessful ones – there will be talk of the stiff competition for places and how it brings the best out of everyone.
Sometimes, it’s little more than a cliché but in the case of the 2020 Cork U20 hurling team, it rings true. In their Munster semi-final against Limerick last December, the players introduced from the subs’ bench combined for 1-12 of the 80-minute tally of 2-29, while the final win against Tipperary saw the winning goal created by subs Brian O’Sullivan and Aaron Browne before another replacement, Jack Cahalane, found the net.
Having such depth isn’t something that has happened by accident, as Cork selector Donal O’Mahony outlines.
“We tried to create an identity when we started, nearly two years ago now, and the identity was that we were going to be different,” he says.
“We said that in every dressing room, they’re saying the same thing about competition for places, but we said we will be different and that there will be a significant correlation between what we say and what we do.
“If you look at the Munster final, there were three fellas who had played in the previous year’s All-Ireland [who were coming on as subs] and that meant that we were carrying through what we said.
“If you perform well in training, if you perform in the practice games for us, you will get the jersey. To key to that then is keeping the fellas who aren’t starting happy.
“Specifically from my point of view, getting beaten by Limerick in 2018, when the game was in the melting-pot, the value they added from the bench was a real learning curve for us. Then we were asking ourselves the question all the time, do you start with your best 15 or do you end with your best 15?
“Both in the Limerick game in the Gaelic Grounds, which was a challenge, and the Munster final, we felt that we upped the ante and raised the standard by the fellas we brought on, which wouldn’t necessarily always be the case with Cork.
“It’s influencing your thinking, who you start and who you play.”
Tomorrow night’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U20 final against Dublin in Nowlan Park (7.15pm) is Pat Ryan’s side’s first game since the Munster final against Tipp on December 23. Coming back to training with such a big game on the horizon is obviously different to the usual pre-season return, but O’Mahony and the management preach a focus on the present.
“Psychologically and mentally, there have been loads of challenges but our message has been consistent all year,” he says.
“When we’ve gone out for training on a Tuesday night, the message has been that that’s the most important thing – not Thursday’s session or the match next weekend.
“That served us well because, when we were going through lockdown, the next session was the most important and we didn’t start talking about the All-Ireland final, that was way down the thing.
“The concentration has been on the now as opposed to the future.”
O’Mahony has previous experience as part of the Cork senior and U21 management teams headed up by John Meyler while he has also played a key role in establishing Christian Brothers College as a Dr Harty Cup force.
Also in the set-up are Brendan Coleman of Youghal, Fergal Condon – manager of Imokilly for their three county SHC titles on the trot – and three-time All-Ireland-winner Wayne Sherlock. It’s a group which blends together well, O’Mahony feels.
“First and foremost, when we spoke to Pat at the start, our metric is that you have to add value,” he says.
“The days of having a selector who comes down and stands on the sideline, chatting to the water-man or whatever are gone.
“Brendan has added fantastic value and for these young fellas coming through to have access to Wayne Sherlock, who’s one of the best defenders Cork have ever had, is brilliant.
“‘Rasper’ [Condon] has been fantastic, he’s won county finals with Imokilly but he’s a big personality within the group, he’s great fun and he a really good hurling brain.
“We all add value and when we’ve done online sessions with sports psychologists, they’ve said there seems to be a great atmosphere and we just trust each other. There’s a great trust built up and you don’t just give fellas trust, you have to earn it.
“We’re in a good place, there’s a great atmosphere there at the moment.”