Cork have named an unchanged starting 15 for Wednesday night's Bord Gáis Energy Munster U20HC final.
Just over a fortnight after winning one All-Ireland title, the team can put themselves just one game away from one of the fastest retentions ever as they clash with Limerick at Páirc Uí Chaoimh (7.30pm).
A superb second-half fightback against Tipperary in Thurles last week – winning by six points after trailing by seven – earned Cork their place in the provincial decider but, while manager Pat Ryan was pleased with the character shown, he knows that slow starts are a luxury no longer allowed.
“After winning the All-Ireland, the last thing we wanted to do was go out on a whimper,” he says.
“Obviously, there are a lot of new fellas involved with the squad and it just took a while to gel, but in fairness to the lads themselves, they weren’t happy with how they had played in the first 30 minutes as regards effort and attitude, and that was driven by them.
“They were very proud of themselves afterwards but obviously we know that, going in to play Limerick in the Munster final, shutting down for 30 minutes won’t do.
“I watched Limerick against Clare, they put up 1-27 on the night and they were very impressive, so we’ll need to be at it from the minute the ball is thrown in but I’d be confident that we will be.”
While neither the Cork team nor management would have wished for such a serious gut-check last Tuesday night in Thurles, that they eventually came through in such impressive fashion will have helped the team to gel after limited preparation time due to the completion of the 2020 championship.
“Yeah, it does,” Ryan agrees.
“It kind of re-emphasises to the lads that, if we don’t do that, we can be a very ordinary team.
“When we do bring it, we can be a very good team, like in the second half but I think every team is like that.
“Everybody’s asking for honest of effort and hard work and see where your hurling takes you after that. We’d be confident that we have some very good hurlers and a lot of pace in the team, a lot of physicality in the team, so that if the work-rate would be high, we’d be very competitive against any team.”
Competition for places is strong, while the level of carry-over from the 2020 team, matchday squad and extended panel ensures a continuity and increases confidence among players who have already claimed All-Ireland medals.
As with the previous campaign, the management team – Ryan is joined by his selectors Fergal Condon (Aghada), Wayne Sherlock (Blackrock), Brendan Coleman (Youghal) and Donal O’Mahony (Bishopstown) – are not afraid to make big calls in terms of team selection or in-game changes. A meritorious process ensures fairness for everybody and acts as a forge to get the most from players.
“I think a lot of lads that were on our 24 for the All-Ireland, the likes of Ethan Twomey and Kevin Moynihan, they showed great heart and determination to be involved in it,” Ryan says.
“They all felt that they were good enough to be involved with last year’s squad but that’s gone now and it’s their time to try to grab the jersey and leave their mark.
“They did that in the second half the last day and you’d be hoping that they can bring the second half to the 60 minutes against Limerick.”
Another pleasing aspect for Ryan and his backroom team is that they have essentially a full-strength squad to choose from.
While St Finbarr’s duo Brian Hayes and Jack Cahalane have had a heavy workload as they also won Munster U20 football medals last Thursday, two nights after the Tipp game, there are no serious concerns.
“No, everything seems to be good,” Ryan says.
“In fairness to Brian and Jack, who put in a savage performance for the U20 footballers two days later, they’re a bit tired and that. There are a few niggles and bumps but nobody has serious injuries or is looking doubtful.”
C Wilson (Newcestown); E Downey (Glen Rovers), D O’Leary (Watergrasshill), C O’Brien (Newtownshandrum); E Twomey (St Finbarr's), C Joyce (Castlemartyr), K Moynihan (Na Piarsaigh); S Quirke (Midleton), B O’Sullivan (Kanturk); D Flynn (Ballygiblin), D Hogan (Sarsfields), B Hayes (St Finbarr's); R Cotter (Blackrock), P Power (Blarney), J Cahalane (St Finbarr's).
C Long (Glen Rovers), C O'Donovan (Douglas), C O'Leary (Ballincollig), C McCarthy (Sarsfields), D Kearney (Cobh), M Mullins (Whitechurch), L Horgan (Glen Rovers), B Cunningham (St Finbarr's), S Desmond (Watergrasshill).