THE most satisfying aspect of the Cork U20s' Munster final victory at Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Wednesday night was their resilience in the closing stages.
Cork hurling teams in the modern era haven't won too many matches when the odds have been stacked against them. On this occasion, they collectively stood up and were counted, though it took a brilliant block from Sam Quirke in the dying seconds to prevent Limerick from snatching a killer goal.
Having coughed up a six-point lead and after losing their full-back Daire O'Leary to injury, Cork were reeling coming down the stretch. It didn't help their cause that referee Kevin Jordan was extremely fussy and across the second half awarded Limerick eight frees within scoring distance to just one for the home side.
Pat Ryan and his management team have instilled belief and attitude in this group. They needed it when Limerick had all the momentum.
Injury-time points from outstanding attackers Darragh Flynn and Padraig Power, along with a second from the bench via Ben Cunningham, proved enough. Realistically, Cork should have been out of sight but Cathal O'Neill's frees kept Limerick without touching distance, along with a host of spurned goal chances for Pat Ryan's side.
Flynn, the standout forward in the 2019 Cork minor crop, hit five from play in the second half, four in the third quarter, and was the TG4 Man of the Match.
Ethan Twomey and Ciarán Joyce were excellent in the air for the defence and Brian Hayes secured some critical possessions under puck-outs, especially in the first half, when he clipped 0-2 and was fouled for a free as well. Hayes and Jack Cahalane are a rare breed, dual players, who helped the U20 footballers to success against Kerry and Tipp. Cahalane had a mighty second half, on the world of ball as well as tackling and tracking across the forward line.
Kevin Moynihan stood out for Cork too, recast as a wing-back having been a forward up to now for inter-county underage teams and Na Piarsaigh. Brian O'Sullivan nabbed a vital point in the fourth quarter. Robbie Cotter scored 0-2 but was also fouled for three converted frees.
And remember, Cork's marquee U20s Shane Barrett and Alan Connolly were unavailable as they're on senior duty, whereas Colin Coughlan and O'Neill, members of Limerick's senior squad, haven't been used in championship yet by the Treaty. It only makes Cork's wins over Tipp and Limerick more commendable.
Galway await in the 2021 decider on August 7/8, giving Cork a chance to win two All-Irelands in the grade in a month just four weeks after the 2020 installment ended with Cork's first title in the grade in 22 seasons and 23 years (due to that Covid delay).
It's been quite a month for underage hurling on Leeside, with the minors sweeping past Clare and Limerick and into a Munster final against Waterford on Monday, August 9. That will double up as an All-Ireland semi-final, the provincial champs straight through to a meeting with Galway or Leinster winner Kilkenny.