GIVEN the emphatic nature of Cork’s All-Ireland minor hurling triumph last month it is easy to get carried away and include some of that side when discussing future senior Cork selections.
In fact, we should be spending more time ensuring we do not let older, more developed players slip through the cracks.
The likes of Ben O’Connor and Jack Leahy will only be 18-years-old next year, and despite their undoubted qualities, it is unrealistic, and possibly downright irresponsible to contemplate throwing them in at senior level just yet.
Their time will come, and in any case, it is not like the Cork management does not have two All-Ireland winning U20 sides to mine before it gets to this year's U17 crop.
There are plenty of players from those two sides, with many of them being on both, of course, who will be expected to make the step up to senior level either next year or the year after, and with All-Ireland medals already in their back pockets that is something to be encouraged, but Cork hurling must not completely write off a lot of the sometimes forgotten crew of its last great minor vintage, the side that lost the All-Ireland final to Galway.
It is easy to forget now, but that Cork team lit up the summer four years ago, in what was the last ever U18 minor championship. They ultimately fell short in the final by 2-17 to 2-15 to a fine Galway side, but there were mitigating circumstances, such as injuries to key players like Brian Turnbull and Evan Sheehan, which limited their contributions. Otherwise, it might well have been them, rather than Noel Furlong’s charges from this year, who may have won that much-longed-for underage title.
All those players are only 21 or 22 now, with Ger Millerick and Robert Downey being the main hurler to have progressed onto the senior side already. Daire Connery and Sean O’Leary-Hayes both started last year’s Munster championship defeat at the hands of Waterford, but have yet to establish themselves, although Midleton defender O’Leary-Hayes made numerous appearances off the bench in this year’s championship, and he came on for Niall O’Leary in the All-Ireland final.
It is also worth noting that Douglas’ Brian Turnbull has made a senior championship appearance for Cork, albeit coming on in the 72nd minute of that aforementioned loss to Waterford is not what he will want to be remembered for.
Cork hurling must ensure that these hurlers, who are still extremely young in hurling terms, are not completely discarded in favour of the 20- and 21-year-olds who came right after them, and who did finally get their hands on those coveted Celtic Crosses.
O’Callaghan and Connery, as well as the Roche twins and Aaron Walsh Barry, were all a year younger than the players on the age in 2017, so they got to be integral parts of that first U20 All-Ireland won in July, so they don’t really apply to this, but the likes of Keating, Sheehan and Turnbull certainly deserve consideration in the formulation of any future senior Cork squads.
Take Keating for example. In a side that is crying out for presence right down the middle, he could still prove an option at full-back, centre-back or midfield, where he lined out for UCC in last year’s championship in the victory over Duhallow, scoring 0-4. The Kildorrery club man may have had a tough time in the 2019 U20 All-Ireland Final, but so to did others who have been seen in Cork jerseys since.
Players like Keating and Sheehan may not be the solution, but they are much too young to be written off just yet from a Cork perspective, although it is probably up to them to show what they can do in the club championships in the coming weeks and months.
For the record, the Cork team that played in that minor All-Ireland final in 2017 was: