DESPITE hoovering up three All-Ireland titles last summer at minor and U20, this season’s underage campaigns were approached with hope more than expectation.
Cork ended lengthy waits for national honours at both grades but it was always going to be extremely difficult to replicate that with panels lacking the same strength in depth.
Still, the U20s being beaten by Tipp and then the minors going down in Páirc Uí Rinn at the hands of Clare bookended a brutal seven days for Cork hurling, after the senior misfire against Clare in Semple Stadium. Just like Kieran Kingston, his backroom and his players, U20 boss Donal O’Mahony and minor bainisteoir Paudie Murray put absolutely everything in without getting any reward.
Sometimes we forget that sport is about disappointment more often than joy, in our desperation to see our own teams succeed.
In the case of the minors, who shot 21 wides, nine in the opening quarter, and coughed up a goal straight after half-time, frustration was the overwhelming feeling. After blitzing Limerick, when Ross O’Sullivan was irrepressible, Cork didn’t supply the Na Piarsaigh club man and the lively Seán O’Donoghue with sufficient ball in the provincial semi-final.
Timmy Wilk, wing-back as a 16-year-old in last year’s team, was wearing the number 11 geansaí but hurled as deep-lying wing-forward. He might have been more prominent centrally but showed his vast potential. The Cobh youngster’s progress will be worth monitoring.
Likewise, Ballinhassig’s Adam O’Sullivan who clipped over 0-4 from play, one score after a sublime shimmy. He had his share of wides but was a real handful for his marker. Centre-back Daniel Murnane (Carrigtwohill) and Erin’s Own’s Peter O’Shea hurled well too while Tadhg O’Leary Hayes is a younger brother of Cork senior Seán.
With minor now U17 it’s extremely difficult to gauge how talented a group is available, particularly when Covid limited development squads in recent years. Last summer’s all-conquering minors were an exception because they had razed all before them at Tony Forristal (U14) and U15 when the panel was split into two teams equally and still captured A and B trophies.
Collectively, Paudie Murray’s side kept at it even when all the breaks went to Clare. That’s no consolation now their season has concluded. They’ll get further opportunities down the line at U20, no doubt.
Donal O’Mahony’s U20s had three matches, stealing a win on the road to Clare when subs Eoin O’Leary and Colin Walsh pilfered points in added time. They were then defeated on home soil by Limerick which put them into a Munster semi-final in Semple Stadium where they never recovered from a slow start.
O’Mahony and his selectors’ options were limited by injuries to Daire O’Leary and Darragh Flynn, who were involved against Tipp, and Ciarán Joyce’s promotion to senior.
Kanturk’s Brian O’Sullivan was the shining light, with 0-10 from midfield across the three matches, but very few of the rising stars found their rhythm.
Assuming the U20 grade isn’t tinkered with (there’s been a suggestion it’ll roll down to U19 with minor gone completely), many of Donal O’Mahony’s panel are available again in 2023. Goalkeeper Brion Saunderson, free-taker Ben Cunningham, Eoin Downey, Ciarmhac Smyth, Brian Keating, Walsh and Mícheál Mullins will be on the age.
Then you’ve Jack Leahy, Diarmuid Healy, O’Leary, Darragh O’Sullivan and Kevin Lyons, among the 2021 minors who saw U20 action last month, along with extended panelists like James Dwyer, David Cremin, Tadhg O’Connell and William Buckley.
Regardless, the underage losses cast a shadow ahead of Sunday’s trip to Walsh Park the last chance for Kingston’s side to salvage a season that brimmed with promise when they reached a league final.
Assuming there will be a changing of the guard at senior in the off-season, and even if the current management set-up remains, fresh options will have to be auditioned. For now, it’s simply about beating Waterford.