THE CORK and Offaly U20 hurlers showed tremendous character to come through their tough provincial finals.
The stage is now set for what should be a cracking All-Ireland final.
Hurling fever is certainly gripping the Faithful County again, as many of last year's minor team that agonisingly lost the All-Ireland final against Tipp, aim to make up for that bitter heartbreak, These young men would write their names up in the lights if they were to bring the title home for the first time ever.
On the other hand, Cork have a rich heritage in this competition and despite a 22-year barren spell between 1998 and 2020, the Rebel county stands tall with 13 titles, after the 2020 and '21 triumphs.
It will be final number 18 for the team in Red but for Offaly it will be just the fourth time taking the field on the biggest day in this grade. All three previous appearances came in close succession. In 1989 they lost by two points to Tipperary in their inaugural appearance, Two years later Galway ran out 11-point winners, while in 1992 after drawing with Waterford, Offaly eventually lost the final replay by 0-12 to 2-3.
A feature of those finals was the huge attendances. Well in excess of 30,000 packed into O'Moore Park in Portlaoise for the '89 decider which saw Tipperary edge home by 4-10 to 3-11, having led by six points at the interval.
In what transpired to be an outstanding encounter, Michael Duignan, Daithí Regan (1-2), the Pilkington and Dooley brothers along with Gary Cahill all played huge roles for the Midlanders. However, it was Tipperary's Dan Quirke who registered 3-2 that stole the post-match headlines.
Two years later Galway, who had beaten Cork by two points in the semi-final, provided the final opposition for Offaly's second joust at glory as over 16,000 gathered at Limerick's Gaelic Grounds. Kevin Kinahan at full-back, Hubert Rigney at centre-back and Brian Whelehan at wing-back were amongst the star names on the Offaly team sheet.
On the day the Tribe produced a big second-half performance to power home on a 2-17 to 1-9 scoreline.
A year on the two games between Offaly and Waterford attracted over 50,000 to Nowlan Park on two September Sunday afternoons. Johnny Dooley was Offaly's top marksman with 0-6 on day one, as Offaly hit 0-16 in response to Waterford's 4-4, which included a hat-trick from Sean Daly.
Scores were more scarce on the return to the marble city two weeks later, Waterford edging home by 0-12 to 2-3. Ultimately a slow start cost the faithful county, as they failed to bother the scoreboard operator in the opening quarter, Despite an impeccable display from Brian Whelehan, Offaly could not match their opponents who had Fergal Hartley in masterful form.
Now, 31 years on from that final defeat and following a sixth provincial title, Offaly are back in the final again.
Current Cork U20 selector Terence McCarthy was very impressed with last week's Leinster final win over a Wexford outfit that had beaten Kilkenny in Nowlan Park.
"They are a hugely exciting and talented bunch of players, who play a fine brand of hurling and overall are a very balanced team. We know we're going up against a very drilled team, who will certainly bring their own fanfare to the occasion.
"Their fans created a fabulous atmosphere in Carlow and that is why we will be calling on Cork fans to support our team on the day. Our guys have been brilliant so far, winning five games from five.
"On the night against Clare in the Munster final, 13 different clubs were represented on the field of play, so it would be great if we can get a big following from all these clubs for the final."