THINGS could scarcely have gone better for the Cork minor hurling side in Thurles on Wednesday evening but manager Noel Furlong is keen to ensure that nobody in the camp is getting carried away.
The Rebels triumphed by 6-28 to 0-6 against Clare in the Electric Ireland Munster MHC quarter-final in Semple Stadium, holding their opponents scoreless in the first and third quarters, to set up a semi-final meeting with Limerick on July 27.
As impressive as the performance and result were, Furlong knows that the young Rebels must reset and realign their sights if they want to make it to the provincial final on August 9.
“Absolutely,” he said, “we’re under no illusions.
“We’ve Limerick in the semi-final and Cork’s record against Limerick isn’t at all good the last few years.
“We met the morning after the Clare game and boxed that off and it was full focus on Limerick then after that. Everyone was fully healthy coming off the pitch, thankfully.”
Cork had star performances all over the pitch, with Dungourney’s Jack Leahy accounting for 3-9, 3-5 from play, while Diarmuid Healy and William Buckley each contributed four points from play.
At the other end, centre-back Ben O’Connor was a colossus while Paudie O’Sullivan in goal had little to do but was reliable when called upon.
Furlong couldn’t but be happy with how things came together, especially as this team missed out on any U16 championship action in 2020 due to Covid-19.
“We’re very happy, obviously,” he said.
“We were only looking to get a win at the end of the day. The performance was good but, in fairness to Clare, I know they had a lot of injuries and they were missing a few players coming in so that went against them.
“All we could do in the build-up was look after ourselves. We gave Clare our full respect, we came in and put everything on the table and the result went our way in the end.
“We were very happy with our preparation coming in.
“We had full focus on Clare and we were going to give them everything we had.
“We brought all of that on Wednesday and we move on to the next round.”
Having scored six unanswered points before the first-half water-break, Cork did find themselves facing a challenge as Clare got going with three points on the trot after the action resumed. However, the response was deadly, with Leahy’s first two goals ensuring they retired at half-time with a 2-9 to 0-5 advantage. Furlong felt that the green flags had the dual effect of lifting Cork and deflating their opponents.
“After the first water break, Clare started coming back at us and there were only three points in it,” he said.
“A goal is worth more than three points, really, with the momentum it can give a team, so once we got a goal or two, it really killed the game.”
In the second half, Leahy struck for another goal while subs Adam Walsh (two) and Ross O’Sullivan also raised green flags. Furlong is delighted to have the proverbial nice headache when it comes to competition for places.
“We’ve full confidence in our squad and we proved that on Wednesday night with the players who came in,” he said.
“You saw the damage that they did and that’s only a positive for us going forward, to have all of the players – and we had 12 players who weren’t involved that would get on a lot of other squads and teams. To have that competition is great.”
And it pushes those on the pitch to keep their levels high, with Cork’s defending as diligent in the 59th minute as it had been in the first.
“A hundred percent,” Furlong said.
“There are key standards that this group hold themselves to and it doesn’t matter whether we’re winning, losing, drawing or whatever the game looks like, you keep those standards and, in fairness, the players did.
“They finished out the game and the best way we could show respect to any team is by giving it everything that we have and we did that on Wednesday night.”
Coming off the back of last weekend and Cork’s 2020 All-Ireland U20 title win, it points to the continuation of the overall upward trend on Leeside. Pat Ryan’s side showed what is necessary for teams to be successful and Furlong hopes and believes that the good habits will have rubbed off on those coming up through the ranks.
“The Cork U20s winning gave everyone a massive boost,” he said.
“To see the work-rate, which was the key metric coming out of that game – all Cork teams now are seeing what it takes to win and really focusing.
“Cork have plenty of players, always have, and things are going in the right direction.”