Normally, the only a game an All-Ireland-winning team would have to worry about is the GOAL challenge, but these are anything but normal times.
Just ten days after winning the 2020 Bord Gáis Energy U20 hurling title, Cork are beginning their 2021 campaign with a clash against Tipperary in Thurles at 7.30pm, live on TG4. It’s a quick turnaround, but manager Pat Ryan is unfazed.
“We knew this, in fairness,” he says.
“Fair play to the players too because we have 16 players available to us who weren’t on last year’s panel and then the other 17 or so on the go all along.
“The players then probably don’t have the same level of experience that you’d get with a Cork U20s team because of the All-Ireland but the players have been fantastic.
“Our management team was split up, too. Traolach Martin and Declan Fitzgerald would have done a good bit of work with this group on the coaching side of things and, obviously, Donal O’Mahony, our head coach, has been superb, not only with this year’s team but last year’s team.
“He has a great work ethic in terms of what we’ve asked the lads to buy into and his coaching is top-class. We’re delighted with the way Donal has gone about his business and also the way he has interacted with the other coaches, he has been totally equal and made sure everybody has felt part of it.
“He’s used everybody’s abilities to get the most out of the team.”
Cork will be without Alan Connolly and Shane Barrett, who have played senior championship, but Ryan views that as something with as many positives as negatives.
“We also had Dáire O’Leary and Cormac O’Brien involved with the panel so we knew that that was a possibility,” he says.
“It’s an absolutely fantastic honour for a fella to wear the Cork senior jersey – as it is to wear the Cork 20s jersey – but you don’t know what happens in a fella’s life next year or the year after or whatever circumstances can happen.
“When a fella can play senior and can represent the county, I think we’re more than happy and that’s our job – the more fellas we can get playing senior, the better we’ll feel about the job that we’ve done.
“The boys are mad to play senior and they’d love to be eligible with us, too – I think if I was being honest, maybe the rule should be if a fella starts senior, then he’s gone for the year.
“I think that would be fair but, look, the rule is the rule, we knew what it was and it gives two other fellas the opportunity to start and two other fellas the opportunity to make the panel and that’s brilliant for Cork hurling going forward.
“We’re taking the positives out of it.”
Tipp have a game under their belts, beating Waterford after extra time last week.
“We’re still trying to find out about the 16 who have come on to the panel because we haven’t been able to see them in these situations or as many pressure situations as we would have liked so we’re finding out about that.
“Everything we’re asking them to do at the moment, they’re coming up trumps but, championship hurling on a Tuesday night above in Thurles against Tipperary in a Munster semi-final, you still don’t know exactly what way a fella will react.”