ONE of the usual problems with inter-county U20s is the actual timing of the season although more and more it’s being looked at as a development competition.
Cork compete in the John Kerins Cup, the annual pre-season warmer-upper, before entering the Munster championship, but it’s a headache for the county, who will again be steered Bobbie O’Dwyer in the manager’s role with Ciaran Sheehan, James Masters, Ollie O’Sullivan, and Kieran Cronin as selectors.
Cork’s opening game is on Saturday, February 11 against Laois and they will be out again a week later against Galway before meeting Roscommon on March 4 with the final listed for the 11th.
The 2023 championship will again run like a blitz with Monday the designated day, starting with quarter-finals on April 10 followed by the semi-finals a week later and the final on the 24th.
At this time of year, trying to find suitable pitches is a chore in itself with the weather normally at its foulest, like last season for the game against Galway in Mallow which had to be abandoned at half-time with Cork leading by 0-4 to 0-2.
Yet, the most pressing matter, not only for Cork, but for all counties, is the running of second and third-level competitions around the same time forcing managers to dig deep into their reserves to come up with teams and squads.
This season Cork have five teams in the quarter-finals of the Corn Uí Mhurí (Munster Post-Primary Schools SFC) which will be played on Wednesday and there are bound to be players from across the quintet who will be of interest to O’Dwyer and company.
On top of that the Sigerson Cup and the Freshers Championships began this week while Cork will also be looking at players to bolster their squad via the McGrath Cup with the opening division 2 league game against Meath looming large on the horizon.
In the corresponding minor championship three years ago, played on a straight knock-out basis, Cork were drawn to play Kerry in Tralee in the semi-final, a game which required extra time before the home side emerged victorious by 0-21 to 1-15.
Clare, who had big wins over Tipperary and Clare, were expected to mount a serious challenge in the final but lost by double scores, 2-14 to 1-7.
That Cork team featured the Walsh cousins from Kanturk, Tommy, younger brother of Aidan, in defence, and Colin up front, the latter contributing an impressive 0-6, of which all bar one came from play.
Since then, Tommy has made it to the Cork senior panel and came on for Kevin O’Donovan (Nemo Rangers) in the full-back line in last week’s McGrath Cup win over Kerry at Páirc Uí Rinn.
It’s a busy time for the powerfully built Walsh because he’s also part of the MTU Cork Campus’s Sigerson Cup set-up with a minimum of two games in that competition in addition to trying to establish himself under John Cleary’s watch.
Cousin Colin, meanwhile, has caught the attention of new Cork hurling manager Pat Ryan and was introduced as a second-half substitute in the opening Munster League win over Kerry which suggests he will no longer be available for football. Both played major roles in the 2022 campaign, which saw Cork overcome Limerick on the impressive Ballyagran pitch, which showed all the benefits of a major cash injection to bring the surface up to speed.
Cork played against the howling wind from the start and led by 0-6 to 0-4 at half-time and consolidated their positions with a couple of early second-half goals from Éire Óg’s Hugh Murphy and a penalty from Barryroe’s Ryan O’Donovan en route to a 2-15 to 0-5 triumph.
Kerry proved too strong in the final, however, finishing like an express train by scoring the closing six points after Cork had battled hard to be within striking distance at 1-5 to 0-7 before the home side found a few more gears.
Meanwhile, Cleary and his senior management were out in force during the week running their eyes over their Cork Sigerson Cup contingent ahead of the final McGrath Cup group game against Clare in Cooraclare on Sunday at 1.30pm.
Cork will be favoured to reach the final against either Tipperary or Limerick scheduled for next Wednesday.