ANOTHER year over and a time for some mature reflection on all things Cork hurling.
It would have to be stated at the outset the positives outweighed the negatives in 2021 which provides us with cautious optimism going forward.
Three All-Ireland titles, the U20 victories of 2020 and 2021 were added to by the All-Ireland minor victory of 2021.
Given that we had to go back to 1998 for the last national title at the U20 grade which then, of course, was the U21 grade, and back to 2001 for the last All-Ireland minor victory, the above victories have to be viewed in a very positive light.
It was too long a wait to make the breakthrough again in those grades, but no matter how well you might have fared in them in the past, there are no guarantees where any of the leading hurling counties are concerned.
Of course, what has to be gotten out of minor and U20 victories is a decent number of players that will be able to graduate to the top table of senior hurling.
History will show that many might be called but few are able to deliver to the extent that you might want them to and that applies everywhere.
What the players on those winning Cork teams have done, however, is to provide a solid platform for the senior management to work on and to try and extract the maximum from.
Already, we have seen a few of them being called into the senior squad and in time, hopefully, a few more will be added to that list.
There is a considerable gap to be bridged between the grades of minor and U20 on to the much bigger stage, physicality now considered to be a priority among other things.
Only a very select few bridges that gap immediately and where some of these young Cork hurlers are concerned, there will have to be some patience.
Too often in the past, in all counties, we have seen very good, young players fade out of the picture all too quickly.
They might have gone on to become very good players at club level, but they didn’t have the necessary attributes to cut it at the top level of senior inter-county level.
Really, it’s a wait-and-see situation, but where quite a few of those Cork minor and U20 teams are concerned, the portents are good.
The ball is now in the hands of the senior management and future senior management teams to bring them further along the road to places like Thurles, the Gaelic Grounds and Croke Park on big match days. But it’s a big positive that the initial steps on that road have been taken.
And on the subject of the senior team, any year that you win three championship matches would have to be considered a decent one and in olden days you might end up with a trophy.
But that landscape is much changed now and it takes much more to land significant silverware.
In the new season, Cork or any other county will have to win six games at least to claim the MacCarthy Cup, four in the provincial format, an All-Ireland semi-final if they claim the provincial title and the final itself.
If you only make it through to the quarter-final of the All-Ireland it will take seven games to win the big prize in headquarters. That will take some doing.
Cork did well enough to bounce back and go through the All-Ireland qualifier system which led to participation in the All-Ireland semi-final and victory in that over Kilkenny after being eliminated from the provincial championship by Limerick.
It’s history now that Limerick were waiting in the final and they gave us a good thumping on the day. But what’s done is done and nothing will change the past, in fact, there’s no future in the past.
In the pecking order of All-Ireland title contenders and despite contesting last season’s final, Cork have fallen down a bit and would probably be ranked now behind Limerick, Waterford, Galway, and maybe Tipperary.
That is based very much on the performance in the final last season, a 16-point defeat that could well have been more.
One is sure, though, the All-Ireland title is far from the mind right now in the Cork camp and in the rest of other counties too.
The only priority for all of them will be being one of the three counties to emerge from the provincial format.
That in itself is going to be a tall order for every county, no matter how well they might have done last season. This is a whole new ball game for every leading hurling county. But you would have to say that Cork hurling is on a firmer footing now after the All-Ireland wins at minor and U20 level.
A succession plan has been put in place too regarding the appointment of inter-county managers and that’s not a bad thing either.
Valuable experience will be gained by those charged with that responsibility and a lot will be learned.
It will be 17 years this year since Liam McCarthy visited Cork, all too long but outside of Kilkenny, all the others have experienced that type of famine too.
But the cause must always endure and the hope must always be there.