At club level, Ben O’Connor has enjoyed success as a coach with Charleville and Midleton and tonight he hopes that the oneills.com Munster U20HC title can be added to the portfolio.
While the three-time senior All-Ireland winner acknowledges that operating at inter-county is different to the club scene, the primary building blocks are the same and he feels that the Cork set-up he leads is one with strong foundations. Winning or losing against Clare tonight won’t change his perception of those he’s working with.
“This year has been a real eye-opener,” he says.
“For myself, Terence [McCarthy], [Ronan] Curran and [Anthony] Nash, it would have been the first time involved with an inter-county team but we had Ger O’Regan with us and he had been involved with under-age teams. He was a great help.
“I think the main thing is that you get a good group of fellas and strong people in around you. Our backroom team might be fairly small compared to a lot of other crowds around but it’s very tight and every fella’s working.
“We have a great group of players and a good management group and a good backroom. I suppose it’s very easy to say that when things are going well and you’re winning games but, no matter what, you know that, at the end of the year, all of these people have given everything. That’s all you can ask for.
“At the end of the year, there’ll be one winner of the Munster U20 championship – hopefully, that’ll be us but, if not, we know that every fella will have given it everything.”
If proof were needed of the conviction within the camp, Cork’s last outing against Limerick – at TUS Gaelic Grounds, where tonight’s final takes place – provided it. With a place in the decider already assured, Cork didn’t need to win the game but the effort and application of the players gave no indication of that and they secured the result, eliminating the Shannonsiders in the process.
“All year, anything that we’ve asked them to do, they’ve done,” O’Connor says.
“Our plan at the start of the year was, first, to win the two home games because that was very important to get us off on the right path.
“We did that and then we regrouped again and said we had two tough away games and that we’d go and try to win the two of them as well.
“We went to Clare and we scraped past them and then, with the way the results went, we were qualified. That meant that the Limerick match could have been a dead rubber but, with these boys, there’s no such thing as a dead rubber.
“Even if we’re having an A-versus-B match or backs and forwards in training, they’re cutting rashers off each other.
“They’re winners, they want to be known as winners and there’s a competitive edge to them, there’s a bit of grit in them.
“It’s very hard to go into a match then and take that out of a fella – you’re always trying to put it into a fella so why would you do the opposite? We went to Limerick with only one idea in our heads and that was to win the game.
“It could have gone any way for a finish, after going down to 14 men and when there wasn’t a whole pile at stake for us, but they still dug in.
“You see the character of the fellas you have in those situations. We’ve 38 or 39 on the extended panel and every fella is the same – they have the mentality that they want to be known as winners and they go out to try to win every game.”
Underpinning that is the strong competition for places, which O’Connor feels brings the best out in everyone.
“We’ve a huge panel,” he says, “and there are a lot of fellas close to making the team and close to getting on the 24, so there’s fierce competition.
“There’s a good atmosphere in the squad and they’ve come up trumps every time we’ve asked them to do something. Hopefully we’ll get another 60 minutes out of them on Monday night.”