Underage hurling teams take centre stage
Given the hectic activity of the last few weeks, it’s a bit like a weekend off with very little action on the inter-county front, as Cork’s interest in the Allianz national leagues is at an end and even the camogie and ladies football teams are on a week off.
Munster Minor Hurling Championship
Cork v Tipperary on Tuesday at Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 7pm
Following their win over Waterford in their opening game by 3-19 to 0-15, Cork manager Kieran Murphy was naturally pleased with the display. “Very happy especially with it being our first competitive outing and Waterford with a game under their belts; we started well and the goals really put us in a good position.”
Those goals were by Barry O’Flynn and Barry Walsh.
As a forward himself in his playing days, Kieran marvelled at their execution: “Brilliant - I love to see lads having a go and it paid off, they were crackers and we actually encourage that in our lads and they took the opportunities when they came and of course, with scoring difference possibly coming into play, we might need them.”
Next up are the All-Ireland champions Tipperary and having lost their opening game they will be very keen to get back on track. “They lost to Clare in difficult conditions last week but we know that Tipperary hurling is always very strong at underage and they like nothing better than playing Cork so we are expecting a real tough test.”
“There’s a few tired lads in the dressing room, a couple of knocks as well, so it’s a case of recovery now on Thursday and a couple of light sharpening sessions before Tuesday. I’m sure Tipperary watched us tonight and they have had a week off, but that’s the nature of the championship and we will be ready for it.”
Cork did impress in the win, even if 7 first-half wides would be a concern, there was a solid look about the team.
Oisin Walsh made a couple good of good saves, Darragh Walsh, David O’Leary and Ben Walsh were excellent in defence.
Conor McCarthy clipped over 0-2 from midfield, while the attack really showed their quality; Barry Walsh, Barry O’Flynn and Zack Biggane took their scores well.
Tipp know that nothing but a win will keep them in the hunt. Shane Buckley, Robbie Ryan, Sam Rowan, Leigh Loughnane and Eoin Carey are all good players and will relish the chance to beat the old rivals on home soil.
Cork though look well equipped for this challenge and while it might be closer then the opener, I expect that with home advantage they might just have the edge.
Munster Under 20 Hurling Championship
Cork v Tipperary on Wednesday at Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 7.30pm
Having played and hopefully beaten Waterford last night (Wednesday), Cork should go into this game in confident mood and like their minors Tipp failed to win their opening game - a draw with Clare. They also know they cannot afford another loss and manager Brendan Cummins will have his charges primed for action.
It was a cracking game in Ennis - always a hard place to get a result and they won’t fear Cork even in the ‘Park, and they do have 8 of last year’s team on duty.
Luke Shanahan and captain Darragh Stakelum, Jack Leamy, Darragh McCarthy, Eddie Ryan, Peter McGarry and goalkeeper Eoin Horgan all played important roles in that game in Ennis.
There is a nice balanced look to this Cork team, and the inclusion of Eoin Downey and Ben Cunningham who both featured with the seniors in the National League is a timely boost.
Brion Saunderson, Sean Daly, Darragh and Adam O’Sullivan, Michael Mullins, Colin Walsh and Ross O’Sullivan are all big players and hopefully they can deliver another match winning performance.
Allianz national leagues
The hurlers unbeaten run finally came to an end in Nowlan Park last Sunday in a match they never really got to the pitch of. The sending-off of Eoin Downey, possibly ruling him out of the championship opener against Waterford, was the other downside.
It is now 5 weeks to the championship and while they will have been disappointed at losing, overall I think Pat Ryan and his management team will have viewed the campaign in a positive light.
Blighted by injuries, they still turned in some good displays, notably the wins over Limerick and Galway and while the form had dipped in recent outings, the number of players that saw game time will be another plus.
On the injury front, Patrick Horgan and Tim O’Mahoney were introduced on Sunday, Darragh Fitzgibbon is expected to resume training this week, while Seamus Harnedy, Declan Dalton and Robbie O’Flynn are all on the road to recovery.
Robert Downey was one of the better players on Sunday last along with Ciaran Joyce, while Shane Barrett and Padraig Power had good moments.
The other injury concern now is team captain Sean O’Donoghue who was noticeably limping watching the warm up, but hopefully he can recover in good time for the Waterford game.
The depth of the panel - even without Mark Coleman and Alan Connolly - is healthy enough and with a couple of challenge games and a good block of training, including a two day camp in Enfield, and maybe a few lads might get to feature with their clubs to give them match time, they should be in rude health for 30 April.
At one stage in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the footballers trailed Derry by 1-13 to 0-8 and looked set to suffer a heavy defeat that would have done little for morale ahead of the championship QF v Clare in two weeks time.
But they battled back reeled off a few points, Micheál Aodh Martin made a vital save and then in the last minute Ian Maguire got a goal to earn them a well deserved draw at 1-14 apiece, confining Derry to just 1 point in the last quarter.
You might say Derry had very little to play - already promoted and a final on Sunday - but they still wanted to go 7 from 7, a rare feat.
John Cleary once again lamented the wasting of goal chances; even Ian Maguire in a post match interview was annoyed at missing one, but thrilled to bag the leveller.
14 goals scored in 7 games, but many more left behind, so that is something they will work on for the championship.
The other feature of the league was the consistency of selection - changes were kept to a minimum and again like the hurlers, injuries were a factor.
Cathal O’Mahoney is out of the Clare game, while there is a doubt about Maurice Shanley and Brian Hurley, you suspect though both will be fit.
They will regret, apart from the goals, a few things, notably the loss to Meath on the opening day, the Royal County had a miserable campaign after that; the near miss against Dublin, and a poor enough display in Ardee - small margins between promotion or staying Division 2 for another season.
Barring an unlikely sequence of results, they are assured of playing in the Sam Maguire Cup, which guarantees 3 more competitive outings get to the Munster Final and that is 6 and possibly more, if you were to emerge from that group.
Ennis on 9 April is next and while we won there a few weeks ago and since then Clare have been relegated, it is still going to be a tricky encounter, as Colm Collins will have targeted this game as a means to making it into the Sam Maguire especially with Kerry on the other side of the draw.
That said, Cork are moving in the right direction and will not fear heading back up there and I would be confident of winning the game and reaching the Munster Final.
A couple of things though: just look at Division 2 next year, Cork are joined by Kildare, Meath, Louth, Armagh, Donegal, Cavan and Fermanagh - nothing easy there.
The fixing of the NHL Final for Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday 9 April is a strange one, apart from the pairing who probably would have preferred Thurles, Cork footballers are playing in the Munster Championship that same day and time; unusual, but then fixture scheduling in recent years has gone that way.
Remember last year’s All-Ireland hurling QF v Galway 1pm on a Saturday to facilitate a rugby match between 2 South African teams in Durban, and to think there is not a game of any substance at national level on Saturday 8, the mind boggles!
Camogie and Ladies Football
It was a good weekend for Cork camogie with the two teams reaching the Very Ireland National League Finals.
The Seniors in Division 1 will play Galway in Croke Park on 16 April at 1.45pm I understand, while in Division 2B, the win over Kilkenny last Saturday ensured they are into their final with one game v Wexford still to play.
Vital game for the minors this Sunday, it’s a must win v Kilkenny in Freshford at 2pm.
The Cork Ladies Footballers rounded off their league campaign with a good win over All-Ireland champions Meath on Saturday last and they can now look forward to the upcoming Munster Championship before the All-Ireland series gets underway.
I notice the Integration Committee chaired by former president Mary McAleese are to engage with the county boards in the GAA, camogie and ladies football as they endeavour to move the process forward, it is going to be a lengthy and time consuming period for all involved.
On another note I believe that both Cork camogie and ladies football teams are scheduled to play in their respective Munster championships on the same day, 30 April. In camogie, they play v Waterford in Páirc Uí Chaoimh as a curtain-raiser to the hurling game, and the footballers are fixed to play Tipperary.
Surely that could have been avoided, dialogue between the councils could have sorted this and they will, won’t they?