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Minors dare to dream

Wednesday, 30th August, 2017 5:03pm

It’s been ten years since Cork last appeared in an All-Ireland Minor Final and 16 since they’ve won a title.

This Sunday is the last time they’ll ever be in one with the age structure as it stands; as in 2018, the grade will be reduced to an Under 17 limit.

That All-Ireland title in 2001 included players such as John Gardiner and Munster’s Tomás O’Leary and was trained by Denis Ring who is on the line for Cork on Sunday as manager, having taken over the role in October 2013.

Sixteen years without a title; in layman’s terms, that’s over 400 of Cork’s best underage players who have trained year in and year out and walked away without reaching the highest summit at minor level.

Sunday represents a chance for change and, according to Ring, his side are underdogs against a physical Galway side that overcame Killkenny in the All-Ireland Semi-Final by just a point.

“They’re a very physical side, I know both Clare and Kilkenny, who Galway knocked out, struggled with that aspect of their play,” comments Ring.

“Kilkenny went through a serious campaign and that will tell you the calibre of Galway’s play. They bully teams, I mean that in a positive way, they’re flyers – they have a group of very big lads in their full forward line.”

Galway will have the larger support in Croke Park on Sunday with their senior side also playing, however Ring admits, that while it helps a team, it’s not an excuse Cork will fall back on.

“When we won in 2001 we played Galway who had both minor and senior teams playing and their minors were going for three-in-a-row and we won. You use something like that as a challenge, it’s like the world is out to get us so we have to use that and not let it be a negative.”

Injuries are the main concern for Ring and his management team ahead of the game; Evan Sheehan is suffering from a medial ligament injury, which he picked up five weeks ago in a club game with Na Piarsaigh; while Brian Turnbull suffered a hamstring injury playing for Douglas last week.

With Sheehan’s injury expected to take 8-12 weeks recovery time, Turnbull’s playing possibilities are much stronger – he is training this week while undergoing treatment for the injury.

“We’re being very careful with Brian, it was just one of those things but he has been training this week. We have a strong panel and there will be able lads to come in to fray should they be called upon, but regardless, you’re looking at the two lads who won the man of the match awards in our last two games.

“We were without Evan against Dublin in the All-Ireland Semi-Final, Brian got 13 points in that game and is our top scorer (Turnbull has had a return of 44 points so far this year). Then, in the Munster Final, Evan scored 2-2,” laments Ring.

Regardless of the starting 15, Ring says his team knows a better performance then what they produced against Dublin will be needed. Cork were in cruise control, only to let Dublin back in to it at crucial junctures, although they eventually pulled away with a 0-23 to 2-13 win.

“You wouldn’t have known we were through to an All-Ireland Final after that game in the dressing room,” recalls Ring.

“The lads were fierce disappointed with themselves and their performance. I think they thought they’d win in a bit more style but the second half wasn’t that way at all.

“To be honest, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that it happened, it’s one of the traits of this team this year. They’ve dug deep when they’ve most needed to, we got a last minute goal to take Tipperary to a replay in Munster and it was the same against Dublin, they found an extra gear.”

Five of Ring’s starting players were winners in Cork’s recent All-Ireland Under 17 win - Daire Connery, Aaron Walsh Barry, Conor O’Callaghan and the Roche twins Eoin and Brian. Ring had eight panel members involved in total, something which will have given his side a bit more Croke Park experience, and a winning one at that.

“It’s certainly a help,” says Ring. “You can talk about Croke Park all you want – until you go out there and play yourself, it’s impossible to gain experience any other way. They have that and the semi-final win against Dublin, so Croke Park isn’t a factor - it was great to see the lads get the win in the Under 17 final.

“In fairness, the Cork County Board have been very accommodating and have given us access to Páirc Uí Chaoimh so we could train in a similar stadium environment and we really appreciate that.

“We’re just trying to protect the lads from the outside and the hype this week, everyone in Cork will be looking to them to win this. They’re well up for it and they’re a great group, I must say I’ve really enjoyed this year, it’s been a rollercoaster season.

“Last year was a disappointment but every team is different and look, leaving Sunday aside for a minute, we’ve produced a team with about six or seven players that I think will play at senior level in the next four to five years.

“There’s winning and silverware, which are very important to a certain degree, but we are the conveyor belt in what is a bigger picture and I think we’ve got some serious quality players there.

“We have in previous years, just look at Shane Kingston, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Mark Coleman for example – they were unknown to many because of their lack of exposure at their minor level when sides didn’t progress, that’s the difference this year.

“People are talking about these lads because they’ve seen a lot more of them and we’re just trying to mind them from that but they’re well able for the challenge. 1.15pm on Sunday is all we’re thinking about!” Ring concludes.

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