CORK will be aiming to win a third U20 All-Ireland hurling title in a row in 2022.
The thing about the blues is that you always say the first line twice and while clearly the opposite of ‘the hurling blues’ let us indulge ourselves.
Cork will be aiming to win a third U20 All-Ireland hurling title in a row in 2022.
It has a nice ring to it. The previous All-Ireland had been annexed way back in 1998 when you could still spend Irish currency and when Ireland were still kings of the Eurovision. It had been a while.
Then in seven magnificent weeks last summer Pat Ryan’s charges wrapped up the delayed 2020 championship with a brilliant win over Dublin in Nowlan Park and went straight in to secure the 2021 title in more convincing fashion over Galway in Thurles only a matter of weeks later.
And while the manager of those two seismic wins, Sarsfields’ Pat Ryan, has stepped away, there is significant continuity with the appointment of Ryan’s former selector Donal O’Mahony as the new manager, and to drive home the continuity angle even further, three of Ryan’s other selectors, Wayne Sherlock, Brendan Coleman and Fergal Condon, will remain on as part of O’Mahony’s team.
The presence of these key individuals in the management team gives Cork a strong platform in terms of beginning their title defence, but what is probably of more importance is the fact that so many of last year’s All-Ireland winning players remain underage.
Eight of the starters from the win over Galway are underage again in 2022 in Cathal Wilson, Eoin Downey, Ciaran Joyce, Ethan Twomey, Brian O’Sullivan, Darragh Flynn, Jack Cahalane and Daniel Hogan.
It is safe to say that they will backbone the 2022 side, and we can add to that list four players who came on off the bench and contributed to that final victory. Ben Cunningham, Luke Horgan, Michael Mullins and Colm McCarthy, while Daire O’Leary would have been the full-back that day only for injury.
That’s almost a team right there, and the recently completed county championships have shown us there are plenty of other options too.
Ballinora's Shane Kingston, Paul O’Riordan (Tracton), Ballincollig's Brian Keating, Midleton's Alex Quirke and Denis McSweeney (Blarney) should all also come into consideration.
And then there’s the small matter of last year’s All-Ireland winning minor team.
The only member of the starting team that crushed everything before them in 2021 that will definitely not be considered for U20 Rebel duty is Cobh’s Timmy Wilk, and that is because he will still be a cornerstone of Paudie Murray’s minors.
You could make an argument for practically every other member of that team to step up, and in normal circumstances, you would probably build an U20 team around this crew, but there is an existing queue ahead of these All-Ireland winning minors, and that can only be a good thing for Cork hurling.
In time you would expect the majority of this team to represent Cork at the U20 grade, but 2022 might come too soon for a bunch of 18-year-olds.
In saying that, some looked physically ready last year, so it would be no surprise to see the likes of Kevin Lyons, Ben O’Connor, Diarmuid Healy and Jack Leahy jump straight in after another year of physical development.
This has all painted a rosy picture of an unstoppable Rebel juggernaut, but there are a few caveats.
The first is the fact that O’Mahony may be short some of his stars due to their likely involvement with Kieran Kingston’s senior set-up. The rule remains where U20 players who are senior panelists cannot play at the underage grade while the senior side remains in championship. That could force Ciaran Joyce out, as it did Shane Barrett and Alan Connolly last summer.
The Limerick minor team gave Cork a bit of a trimming two years ago while Galway will have a squad full of minor medal holders.