Attitude and work-rate must be template for Cork hurling teams from here

Éamonn Murphy looks at how Cork outworked Dublin to land an U20 All-Ireland and show the way forward for the Rebels
Attitude and work-rate must be template for Cork hurling teams from here

Cork's Darragh Flynn is tackled by Dublin's Tommy Kinnane and Andrew Dunphy. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

MANIC work-rate in every sector, a powerful half-back line, a balanced attack and a genuine goal threat inside: the building blocks for a serious hurling team at any level.

Cork landed a well overdue All-Ireland hurling title on Saturday in Nowlan Park by exhibiting all those characteristics in the opening quarter. The seven-point advantage they build-up left Dublin chasing the game for long spells and ensured Cork survived a nervy last few minutes.

When the Rebels misfired in the 2019 U21 and 2019 U20 All-Irelands they took way too long to settle, handing the initiative to Tipp. There was no repeat here.

It was 1-6 to 0-2 by the first water break, with six different scorers, Ciarán Joyce and Daire O'Leary pulling down Dublin puck-outs to set the tone and Seán Twomey raising a green flag after a terrific run by Alan Connolly.

Connolly hit four goals for the Cork seniors in the league, following on from the five he managed in leading Blackrock to the county in 2020. 

He could have easily popped a point after seven minutes against Dublin but instead used a 'Ben O'Connor hop' (as they're known in our house) to bounce the sliotar and avoid over-carrying, breaking through two hard tackles to release Pádraig Power. His shot was parried but Twomey was on hand with the deft finish.  

Connolly was well policed but that run was sensational. 

Cork's Alan Connolly drives past Dublin's Andrew Dunphy. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Cork's Alan Connolly drives past Dublin's Andrew Dunphy. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Blarney duo Shane Barrett and Padraig Power were the standout forwards across the 60-odd minutes but it was a collective effort. Darragh Flynn's two points were class, Colin O'Brien while Twomey's size and ball-winning unsettled Dublin early on. 

The bench added a kick as well. Shane O'Regan's appearance elicited a cheer from the small crowd as he pulled off the bib to come in and while he didn't score, he forced a turnover and scorched through to tee up a Brian Hayes point. The Barrs big man pounced for 0-2 in the final minutes and could have had a goal.

Jack Cahalane pilfered the final point which finally settled the game in injury time. 

Getting a point from play through wing-back Daire Connery, a class act in his best position, and two from midfielder Tommy O'Connell, highlighted that scoring spread.

A man who didn't split the posts was awarded the TG4 MVP and what a great choice that was. Brian Roche's ferocity on the breaks, tackling and offloads at pace were at the heart of Cork's win. When Dublin cut the gap to four, Roche charged up the wing and was fouled for a converted free and then weaved through to slip the sliotar to Power for the killer second goal.

Roche's twin brother Eoin was in the full-back line, doing his best impersonation of his club-mate and Bride Rovers great Brian Murphy.

The Roches, O'Connell, O'Regan, keeper Eoin Davis, captain Conor O'Callaghan, Aaron Walsh Barry, Twomey, Colin O'Brien and sub Cormac O'Brien all featured when Cork beat Dublin in the one-off U17 All-Ireland in 2017, which was put in place before the grade dropped the following year from U18 to U17 permanently. 

The core group have enjoyed major success since they started out in development squads at U14 and those who graduate to senior will bring a winning mentality with them.

Cork's Ciarán Joyce leaps to gain possession in the closing stages against Dublin. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Cork's Ciarán Joyce leaps to gain possession in the closing stages against Dublin. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Credit to Pat Ryan and his selectors, Wayne Sherlock, Donal O'Mahony, Fergal Condon and Brendan Coleman, for the steely edge they instilled into their charges. They headed up the road to Kilkenny with the tag of favouritism and the weight of expectation. It could have crushed them but they delivered when Cork hurling's need was greatest.

The management will have the 2021 panel out in Munster action next Tuesday night. They'll be without two of the strongest hurlers who are still U20 in Barrett and Connolly, as they were brought on by the seniors against Limerick. Cork haven't made the Munster minor final since 2017.

It's a big ask for Cork to get back to another All-Ireland final but what we hope is they hurl with honesty and confidence. Once they do, Cork'll be there or thereabouts again.

Saturday was the culmination of years of underage work, including the efforts of John Considine's U17 management in '17 and Denis Ring's crew who, though it's overlooked by many, got Cork to minor, U21 and U20 All-Ireland finals and won Munster titles along the way. Ring and his selectors produced a lot of senior hurlers.

An U20 All-Ireland is no panacea to Cork's senior problems but the county is in a far stronger position than it was in the middle of the last decade. 

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