CORK had been waiting so long for an All-Ireland title at U21/U20 level that the last two before Saturday included three members of the Rebels’ management team.
Manager Pat Ryan and selector Brendan Coleman had featured in 1997, while Wayne Sherlock was on that side and was underage again when the title was retained in 1998. Since then, there had been heartache and near misses, with Cork losing the last U21 final to Tipperary in 2018 and then also falling short in the first U20 decider to the same opposition in 2019. And yet, as important as it was to break the duck, Ryan is well aware that the primary focus of the grade is to provide valuable development for senior level.
“What we’re delighted with is that the lads have been great for us,” he said, “there’s a lot of good players there now who’ll come out of the U20 group and we’ll be asking them to go back to their clubs and show that form with their clubs, and hopefully that’ll be a stepping stone for them with Kieran Kingston and the seniors next year.
“This is what it’s about, development, but we hadn’t won one in a while and we needed to win one.
“We know what it’s like to win an All-Ireland, that connection is there and we know the bond that brings to players - there’s a great bond among those players anyway, and we’re thrilled for them.
“It takes the monkey off our back a small bit going forward. It’s still only U20 at the same time and we’re used to winning senior All-Irelands, but as I say it takes the monkey off our back a small bit.”
With Dublin having played Galway in the Leinster final in late June and Cork in cold storage since the Munster final win over Tipperary the night before Christmas Eve, the expectation might have been that it would be the Rebels needing time to ease themselves into the game but instead they roared into a 1-4 to 0-0 lead, capped with Seán Twomey’s goal.
“Every team tries to have a good start,” Ryan said.
“We probably feel there was more in the lads, we probably got a bit of white line fever towards the end, the same thing happened against Tipperary.
“In fairness to Dublin, they came at us in waves as well - they’re a very good side, and we knew they were a very good side, so we’re delighted to get the win, to get the victory.
“They’ve been the best players we’ve had at underage level for the last 10, 15 years, and they deserved that victory today.”
And, as they are a team that are a product of the development-squad system, Ryan was also keen to pay tribute to those who had put in the work in bringing them through as well as his predecessor Denis Ring.
“You can see the development they put into these fellas, the work they put in, and a lot of this victory goes down to them as well.
“We’re all driving on, we’re delighted with our backroom staff, delighted with our players and the management team that we put together – it’s very easy when you have very good players.”