Cork should be serious contenders for U20 hurling glory again next season

New manager will take over a group of young hurlers that includes the 2021 minor All-Ireland champions
Cork should be serious contenders for U20 hurling glory again next season

Cork manager Pat Ryan and players stand for Amhrán na bhFiann prior to the U20 All-Ireland final win over Dublin. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

NEW Cork manager Pat Ryan, and his newly-formed backroom team, will undoubtedly be using the 2022 club championships to cast an eye on as many potential 2023 Cork panel members as possible, but he will not be the only manager to do so.

The identity of the Cork U20 hurling manager has yet to be announced, but anyone in the running for the job will be actively perusing all players who will be eligible for U20 duty next year, with a lot of them making their presence felt for their clubs at senior level in recent weeks.

The temptation will no doubt be to lean extremely heavily on the All-Ireland minor winning team of 2021, who beat all before them last year, but there are also a significant number of quality players on the age that will not be surrendering the jersey without a scrap.

One of these players on the age is Mark Howell, who has featured for high-flying Douglas in the Group of Death of the Premier Senior championship, where he played a crucial defensive role in Douglas’ opening wins over Midleton and Kanturk. He was deployed as an attacker in the minor campaign of 2020 under the stewardship of Donal Óg Cusack but is probably more suited to facing the ball.

 Conor Lehane, Midleton, challenges Mark Howell, Douglas, at Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Conor Lehane, Midleton, challenges Mark Howell, Douglas, at Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Reigning champions Midleton have three players on the age in Brion Saunderson, Ciarmhac Smyth, and Alex Quirke, and all will be looking to bring their club experience to this side next year. They all featured in the minor starting line-up three years ago and you would certainly expect Saunderson and Smyth to start again and Quirke should be right in the mix in the middle eight. Mickey Finn and David Cremin were Midleton’s representatives on the 2021 winning minor team, and they will hope to make the Magpies contingent a rather large one next year.

St Finbarr’s can expect Ben O’Connor and Ben Cunningham to start, with William Buckley being there or thereabouts as well. The two Ben’s featured heavily in the Barrs’ win over Blackrock in Round 2 of the championship last weekend, while Buckley made a late cameo off the bench.

Over on the northside, Eoin Downey and Eoin O’Leary from the Glen are now key members of the senior side, and both should be mainstays of the U20s next year.

That is, of course, assuming Downey does not join his brother on the senior panel, as he is arguably the player most likely to do what Ciaran Joyce and Shane Barrett did two years ago and miss their last year at U20 level due to senior involvement.

Oran O’Regan impressed for Erin’s Own in their opening round victory over the Glen. He never actually started at minor level for Cork, despite being on the panel, but if he keeps making his presence felt at senior level he will be hard to ignore.

Up the road at Bride Rovers, Adam Walsh and Cillian Tobin have continued the type of form that saw them be major parts of the minor winning team last year, with both scoring heavily for their club at Senior A level. Walsh can expect to start, given his physical presence, while Tobin won’t be far away given his versatility and an eye for a score.

It will be extremely interesting to see whether the approach that the minors took last year of alternating Walsh with Clyda Rovers’ Ben Nyhan at centre-forward is repeated, as it worked a treat at U17 level.

Further down the grades the likes of Ballinhassig’s Darragh O’Sullivan and Ballygarvan’s Kevin Lyons are being deployed in attacking roles for their clubs, but would both be expected to have single-digit numbers on their backs next year for Cork at U20 level.

TOUGH

Ballincollig have struggled in their tough Premier Intermediate group against strong sides like Castlemartyr and Ballinhassig, but Brian Keating and Tadhg O’Connell have been their main attacking threats, and the pair should be a major part of the new U20 manager’s plans.

Lisgoold’s Diarmuid Healy and Dungourney’s Jack Leahy have begun their respective adult hurling careers also and will be expected to lead Cork’s attack next year.

From looking at the minor side of three years ago we can expect Ballinora’s Shane Kingston, Whitechurch’s Micheál Mullins, and Kanturk’s Colin Walsh all also to feature, in what should be an extremely competitive Cork side looking to regain the All-Ireland crowns won in 2020 and 2021.

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