THE Cork senior hurlers will look to maintain the county’s feelgood factor when they clash with Dublin in tonight’s All-Ireland SHC quarter-final in Semple Stadium (7pm).
With the minor and U20 teams having beaten Limerick in a Munster semi-final and final respectively this week, Kieran Kingston’s side will aim to make it three on the bounce and set up a first All-Ireland semi-final appearance since 2018.
Cork haven’t lost to Dublin in the championship since the 1927 All-Ireland final, but statistics are only of use until they’re redundant, with the U20 side proof of that. Before the start of July, the county was waiting for a first All-Ireland at U21 or U20 level since 1998, but now the possibility of two in the space of a month is a very real one.
Wednesday night’s Munster final win over Limerick, 1-26 to 1-24, earned Cork a spot in the All-Ireland decider for the fourth straight year and the experience gained by so many of the panel in beating Dublin in the 2020 final in Nowlan Park on July 9 should be useful when they face Galway next weekend.
It was a hard-earned win, with Pat Ryan’s side seeing a six-point lead in the 52nd minute wiped out as Limerick came back strongly, but ultimately Cork were able to dig deep and ensure that they got the result.
“Limerick came back at us very well,” Ryan said.
“We had missed a couple of chances, should have been more up. Limerick hurling is on a high, they’re going very well at the moment. The Limerick players didn't die at all, they drove on. We gave away a very sloppy goal and one or two injuries didn't help us.
“We got a couple of scores and then gave away a couple of scores. I don’t know what the free-count was, not blaming the referee or anything like that, but we were probably a bit indisciplined, as well, in some of our tackling and stuff like that. Cathal O’Neill’s a brilliant free-taker, I don’t think he missed too much.
“But, look, we are very proud of our boys and the spirit they showed, couldn't be happier.”
In the semi-final, Cork – with preparations hampered due to the conclusion of the 2020 competition – started slowly against Tipperary in Thurles before responding strongly and that experience was something to draw upon. However, Ryan felt that the roots went deeper than that.
“You’d have to put a lot of it down to themselves and where they come from,” he said.
“They’re a credit to their families and their clubs. These young fellas didn’t come into us, we haven’t turned them into good hurlers overnight, we’ve added a small bit to them. A lot of work has been done at the development squad level and stuff like that, we are probably just putting a bit more of a shine on them.
“They came with great attitude and great character and that’s what we’re trying to get out of them.”
For Brian Hayes and Jack Cahalane, both of whom impressed among a stellar cast on Wednesday, it meant a Munster U20 double with the prospect of an All-Ireland equivalent still alive if the football side can overcome Offaly today.
“In fairness to Jack and Brian, especially after playing football last week and another game on Saturday, they put in savage shifts for us, I thought,” Ryan said.
“Jack grew into the game, he’s a very good hurler and the more hurling he gets, the better he gets. He was very disappointed in himself with his effort the last day against Tipperary, so was Darragh Flynn. I thought they put in two savage efforts today.”
Looking ahead to the final, Ryan knows there is room for improvement but is also aware that the main thing was to get there.
“We need to cut down on our frees [conceded],” he said, “and I don’t think we didn't moved the ball fast enough into our full-forward line in the second half.
“But we’re only nit-picking at this stage, it was fantastic to get the win there."