THE Cork U17 hurlers' hugely impressive 10-point victory over Limerick sent the county into just a second Munster minor final since 2008.
Between Kevin Lyons, Ben O'Connor, Darragh O'Sullivan, Diarmuid Healy and Jack Leahy, Cork had a host of standout performers. Across the field, their work-rate, support play, mix of pop passes and angled long deliveries, and ability to secure possession in the air, meant this was a genuinely excellent team display in Thurles.
Noel Furlong and his selectors have this crew well-drilled and hugely motivated, with a Munster final with Waterford ahead on Monday, August 9, and the incentive of a place in the All-Ireland against either Galway or the Leinster champions for the victor.
Rebel underage teams are humming at the moment, which means the significance of the 1-24 to 1-14 win over Limerick is being slightly undersold. From 13 seasons, Cork have made it to just two Munster minor deciders. A shocking stat but a reflection of Cork's underage struggles in the modern era until the recent renaissance.
There was a one-off Munster and All-Ireland in 2017 at U17 which Cork won, the same season they lifted the last U18 provincial minor crown. Before that though, we've to dial it back to the '08 crop featuring Aidan Walsh, Ciarán Sheehan, Jamie Coughlan, Mark Collins and William Egan.
Undoubtedly, they should have reached the final as well in 2019, having lost by a point in the last round-robin clash in Ennis when a draw with Clare would have done. That was a pretty loaded squad, including Jack Cahalane, Daire O'Leary, Ciarán Joyce, Ethan Twomey, Luke Horgan, Brian O'Sullivan, Daniel Hogan and Darragh Flynn, vital cogs at U20 now.
And the 2015 minors, with Darragh Fitzgibbon, Tim O'Mahony, Mark Coleman, Robbie O'Flynn, Declan Dalton and co, were undone by losing Shane Kingston to injury and missing a succession of chances in a Munster semi-final up in Limerick.
Cork were clear favourites against Limerick in Thurles on this occasion, in the wake of their 40-point drubbing of Clare. However, the Treaty won Munster last year and had five starters back from that team, while Cork were without playmaker William Buckley, one of their standout hurlers.
In the first quarter, Buckley's absence was keenly felt. Rory Sheahan from Kanturk started instead of him, and while the mobile midfield trio of Sheahan, Cillian Tobin and Mikey Finn took over from the second quarter, the opening 15 minutes just didn't click.
Cork had a few sloppy shots and Shane O'Brien was a powerful target-man for Limerick, who were level 0-5 apiece going into the water break. On the restart, the Rebels put up a shield across the half-back line of Timmy Wilk, the soaring Ben O'Connor and James Dwyer. Anything that got through was swept up by Darragh O'Sullivan, Kevin Lyons and James Byrne.
Paudie O'Sullivan was a secure presence in goal and made some fine saves and interceptions in the second half, one of which was directly turned into Jack Leahy's goal.
Tadhg O'Connell was a livewire in the first half, clipping 0-2 and getting fouled for a free, while the towering Ben Nyhan broke plenty of ball into the attack from centre-forward.
Cork's primary scoring threats were Leahy, who ended up with 1-14, 1-4 from play, Diarmuid Healy and Eoin O'Leary. O'Leary got one score from play and was also fouled for a free, but more significantly his tackling turned over the Limerick defence time and again.
Lisgoold wing-forward Healy was involved in multiple attacks. He had 0-4 to his name and was fouled for four of Leahy's frees. He also had five wides and another effort into the keeper's hands, which reflected how hard Limerick found him to handle.
Cork never looked like getting caught once they pushed into a 0-13 to 0-7 half-time lead, stretching it out to eight in the third quarter, and eventually 10. Adam Walsh came into the half-forward line and used his size and strength tellingly. Wilk and sub David Cremin filched some neat points. Leahy and Healy had the Limerick rearguard in the horrors.
Cork'll be expected now to push past Waterford and into the All-Ireland final but considering the Déise hit 2-25 to Tipp's 4-11, it won't be straightforward. This group won the Tony Forristal U14 Tournament three years ago, but the record of teams turning that promise into All-Irelands is extremely poor.
It's over to Noel Furlong and his management to help these young guns break that trend.