WHAT do John Considine, Conor O’Sullivan, Séamus Harnedy and Daniel Kearney have in common?
Don’t worry, you didn’t miss Harnedy leaving St Ita’s and joining Sarsfields, the club of the other three – instead, the link is that none of the four played minor hurling for Cork but did win Fitzgibbon Cup medals and went on to represent the county at senior level.
Two more to add to the list are Brian Lawton and Anthony Nash, who can add All-Ireland intermediate hurling medals to their honour roll. The intermediate grade at inter-county level looks to have departed for good, helped on its way by Covid-19, though the implementation of the split season has arguably made it easier to run. Ultimately, there wasn’t enough of an appetite there beyond Cork and Kilkenny and it’s a pity, as it gave exposure and experience to players who might otherwise not have got it.
The Fitzgibbon and Sigerson remain, of course, though the new inter-county schedule has applied even more of a squeeze to inter-varsity competitions that were already under pressure. Last week, Dundalk IT – who have nine players on county panels – had to give Galway-Mayo IT a walkover in the second-tier Trench Cup final due player welfare reasons.
Cork’s Seán Powter tweeted: “The GAA needs to start respecting and protecting Sigerson/Trench cup etc. They are unbelievable competitions but have been pushed aside recently.”
The new calendar, whereby the league flows straight into the championship, has brought a greater need for county teams to come into form earlier in the year, whereas previously, when there was a disconnect between the two main competitions, managers were more inclined to allow college students to play in the third-level championships.
Certainly, there’s no doubt that players benefit from playing with their colleges.
The Fitz and Sigerson now act as a bridge between U20 and senior and late bloomers – like those examples above who didn’t play minor – can come on in leaps and bounds through playing alongside and against top players from within and without their own counties.
At the weekend, UL triumphed against NUI Galway to take the 2022 Fitzgibbon title – coupled with their two wins in 2015 and 2018 and Mary Immaculate College’s 2016-17 double, five of the last seven have gone to Limerick, so perhaps we should just accept that Shannonside rule in hurling will last for infinity.
Seán Twomey was on the UL team. He was part of the Cork side that won the one-off All-Ireland U17 competition in 2017 – and so technically never played minor either – and won an U20 medal in the over-run 2020 season last July, while he showed up well in the league opener against Clare a fortnight ago.
The Courcey Rovers man’s trajectory has been upward anyway – he was key in helping the club win the county Premier IHC last year, too – so he might not necessarily have needed the leg up that a successful Fitz campaign can give, but it’s not likely to act as any kind of impediment to his hurling.
Also part of the successful squad was Kanturk’s Brian O’Sullivan, who came on as a sub against NUIG. He has two All-Ireland U20 medals to his name and the Fitz experience will surely stand to him going forward.
Another Cork link to UL was the aforementioned Nash, a coach under manager Brian Ryan having won as a player with UCC in 2009.
By the letter of the law, referee Fergal Horgan was probably within his rights to sent Lynch off for an off-the-ball swing, but it’s the kind of thing that happens in every game either without punishment or with a cop-out yellow card.
The fact that UL fared better after the red card, turning around what had been a five-point deficit at one stage, meant that further focus was on the decision, with some feeling that Nash had applied undue influence on linesman Seán Cleere but it all smacked of pearl-clutching.
It hardly needs to be said, but everybody shouts at the referee, looking to nudge them in one direction or another. A few years back, we can even recall reading about an inter-county coach whose job on matchday was to ‘mark’ the ref, in the hope that the constant appeals would generate a few 50-50 calls going their team’s way.
Should it happen? Ideally not, but until a zero-tolerance ban is applied, it will keep happening. Sport is about gaining a competitive advantage, hoping all the marginal gains will add up. When it comes down to it, Nash’s coaching had more impact on UL’s season than any notion that a few words to Cleere – an inter-county referee who isn’t a stranger to sideline interjections – tipped the scales.