Cork hurling benefits from divisions and colleges involvement at senior level

'Once players are beyond the U20 age grade they become more difficult to track, in terms of their development: that’s where the divisions and the colleges come in'
Cork hurling benefits from divisions and colleges involvement at senior level

Imokilly's John Cronin and UCC's Conor Bowe and Shane Conway tussle for the sliotar during the Co-Op Superstores Premier Cork SHC play off semi final at Pairc Ui Rinn. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

THE Co-op SuperStores Cork Premier SHC clash at Páirc Uí Rinn between Imokilly and UCC was not a classic, despite a tight finish that saw the eastern barony triumph on a scoreline of 1-21 to 1-20, but the game certainly highlighted the importance of the respective teams to Cork hurling.

How else could you get representatives from Cobh, St. Ita’s, Watergrasshill, Lisgoold, Dungourney, Aghada, Castlemartyr, Kildorrery, Carrigaline and Inniscarra playing at the highest levels of Cork club hurling?

Obviously, these same players plug away with their clubs in their respective intermediate and junior grades, but these matches tend to occur off-Broadway, and are very much out of sight, out of mind, when it comes to getting noticed for inter-county duty.

One of the biggest positives of Cork hurling in recent years is the manner in which the net is being cast high and wide when selecting Cork underage teams. 

You will always have a few from the likes of the Barrs and the Glen, but it is extremely encouraging to see the likes of Dungourney, Ballygarvan, Liscarroll and Ballygiblin represented.

The problem is that once these players are beyond the U20 age grade they become more difficult to track, in terms of their development. That’s where the divisions and the colleges come in.

The likes of Ger Millerick and Declan Dalton are no longer eligible for Imokilly, given the recent successes of Fr O’Neill’s, but they would certainly have bolstered their inter-county credentials in their time hurling with the Candystripes during the county title wins of 2017 to 2019.

I’m sure the Castlelyons, Watergrasshill and Castlemartyr contingent are all hopeful of moving up through the grades in the coming years, which might mean they are no longer eligible for divisional duty, but they should take the opportunity that is in front of them now, and try and win as much as possible with Imokilly.

PATIENCE

Castlemartyr’s Ciaran Joyce was one of the stars of Cork’s two U20 All-Ireland’s won this year, with his commanding displays at centre-back backboning Cork’s triumphs, but there is a huge jump from underage hurling to adult hurling, and Joyce is only making that transition now.

Wearing the number six shirt for Imokilly can only help in terms of his development as a potential Cork centre-back. Obviously, the key is to be patient with a 19-yea- old and not to expect prime Corcoran or Curran displays every day.

Shane O’Regan is another who can use his time with Imokilly wisely. He looked a star in the making during Cork’s run to the U20 All-Ireland final in 2019, but he was reduced to the role of impact sub for the 2020 triumph. 

His mercurial, direct nature means he offers something very unique in Cork hurling, so Cork should be careful not to write off the Watergrasshill marksman just yet. It will interesting to see how Joyce and O’Regan, and a few others, perform for Imokilly going forward.

And it is not just the younger members of these sides that benefit either. 

Against UCC, arguably Imokilly’s best player on the night was full-back Colm Barry, in the way he nullified the threat of Tipp senior Mark Kehoe. 

The Castlelyons man is not exactly a spring chicken in hurling terms, at 28 years of age, but the argument could well be made that he is the finest in his position in the county, and such displays for his division are not going to hurt in this regards. Considering full-back has been such a problem position for Cork for a while now it may be an option that the Cork selectors should consider examining.

UCC may be eliminated but the return of the Fitzgibbon Cup early next year will be another huge opportunity for some of the College players to test themselves against some of the finest young hurlers in the country, something that was obviously missed badly because of Covid this year.

Imokilly faced Seandún on Sunday night. The city group is another prime example of the importance of divisions playing in the Premier Senior Hurling Championship, with the likes of Whitechurch’s Micheál Mullins, an All-Ireland winner at U20 level this year, able to put themselves in the shop window.

Seandún had gone a whole 11 years without entering a team in the county championship. Their return is most certainly welcome.

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