Summer of major effort for Cork minor and U20 hurlers and footballers

Hectic schedule puts huge pressure on young inter-county players
Summer of major effort for Cork minor and U20 hurlers and footballers

Jack Cahalane has a busy week ahead, on Tuesday for the hurling U20s and on Thursday for the footballers. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

OVER the course of their partnership with the All-Ireland minor championships, Electric Ireland’s campaign platform has always been aimed at redefining what it means to be involved with the minors, elevating both the perception and understanding of the competitions.

Recognising that there is nothing minor about playing minor, Electric Ireland championed the slogan, ‘This Is Major’.

In recent match programmes for the delayed 2020 All-Ireland minor hurling and football semi-finals and finals, Electric Ireland ran an advertisement that perfectly encapsulated how difficult those campaigns had been for the players: ‘There’s been nothing minor about this journey.’ Absolutely.

After the minor and U20 championships were shut down last December, every team still in the competition had to play the waiting game. However, the Galway minor hurlers had to endure an unusually long wait.

With no provincial championship for Galway to play in, and with the group first having got together in November 2019, Galway’s wait to play their recent All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick surely broke all records in world sport: Around 600 days.

Galway underlined their class and brilliance by coming back after such a long lay-off to beat Limerick and Kilkenny to win the All-Ireland minor title.

Yet every group left in the minor and U20 competitions showed huge resilience and determination to make the best of the situation, especially when there was only the promise of one game at the end of such a long wait.

With the Leinster minor hurling and football championships still to be concluded before the 2020 All-Ireland minor championships, Offaly’s two dual players, Cormac Quinn and Patrick Taaffe, saw a famine suddenly replaced by a feast, with provincial finals in both codes played within four days.

Losing both finals was heart-breaking for Offaly, but there was never a minor championship like it. After being together for almost the same amount of time as Galway, Kilkenny had only played one match prior to their recent Leinster final, a semi-final against Wexford, last December.

At least Kilkenny had something to aim for at the end of the long wait, advancing to the final against Galway, but it has been extremely frustrating for all minor and U20 players over the last 18 months.

BENEFIT

The flipside of the coin is that there have been huge positives to the delay. Players were heavily engaged in a high-performance culture longer than they would have if the championships had concluded last year, especially those players who would have been over-age in 2021.

Much of that engagement may have been spent over Zoom, but more time together, especially in such challenging times, will strengthen the bonds and friendships.

Players are also a year older and are much stronger and more physically developed. More time also lends itself to greater emotional development, especially in building resilience and shaping perspective. It has also given team management more developmental opportunities with the players.

That has been important, because it will fast-track these players along the player development pathway, especially with the provincial minor and U20 championships having started last week.

Ben Nyhan of Cork in action against Tony Leyden of Clare in the minor hurling clash at Semple Stadium. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Ben Nyhan of Cork in action against Tony Leyden of Clare in the minor hurling clash at Semple Stadium. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Making that step-up from minor to U20 will be easier for some of those young Galway, Limerick, Kilkenny, and Offaly hurlers, because the players eligible for the grade are now 18, and have had serious big-game experience behind them.

It is still a big ask, but it certainly won’t be as daunting for a handful of the Galway players who won an All-Ireland minor title just 10 days before, if they are to play with the U20s now in a Leinster U20 semi-final.

Yet, it’s also only a couple of weeks since Galway lost the 2020 Leinster U20 final to Dublin, and there are challenges involved in trying to knit everything together so quickly when squads have been splintered and the focus has to shift so suddenly from one group to the next in such a short timespan.

Cork have half of the 2020 U20 squad available for Tuesday’s Munster U20 hurling semi-final against Tipperary.

Yet the challenge for the players who weren’t on the 2020 squad is that they haven’t been able to generate the same momentum when so much of the focus had to be on the U20 All-Ireland final.

Coming just 10 days after the All-Ireland final, that task of gelling two groups together so quickly is all the greater again, considering Tipperary had their full squad for a significant amount of time, never mind already having had a serious game under their belts against Waterford last week.

Tommy O'Connell won an U20 All-Ireland but is now overage. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Tommy O'Connell won an U20 All-Ireland but is now overage. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

The situation has been more complex again, with Cork’s two dual players, Jack Cahalane and Brian Hayes, involved in the 2020 U20 squad, as well as playing against Kerry in an epic Munster U20 football semi-final just five days after the All-Ireland final and just five days before the 2021 U20 hurlers begin their campaign.

It’s been a hectic few weeks for Cork’s minor and U20s. After hammering Clare last week, the minor hurlers will face off next week against a strong Limerick side. The minor footballers play Waterford on Wednesday, with the winners set to face Kerry nine days later.

And in the midst of all that preparation, Cork’s young inter-county minor players — unlike in other counties — have played some rounds of local minor hurling and football championship.

At times, the journey for many of these young Cork players has been difficult, but it will probably be more beneficial to them in the long run. Because there has certainly been nothing minor about this journey.

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