Cork goalkeeper Brion Saunderson during the Munster GAA Hurling U20 Championship Round 5 match between Limerick and Cork at TUS Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo: Stephen Marken/Sportsfile

Underage competitions take centre stage for Cork

With the Cork hurlers on a well earned rest after the drama of last Saturday night, the focus this week is on the minor and under 20 teams in big games, while the ladies footballers also play an important game.

Munster Minor Football Quarter Final

Cork v Kerry in Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 7pm

Having watched on as the other 4 counties played out a round-robin series of games, the minors of Cork and Kerry finally get to see competitive action when they meet tonight, Thursday, with the guarantee of at least 1 more game irrespective of the result.

Cork manager Ray O’Mahony said he is happy enough with his sides preparation.

“It’s been good - a lot of hard work has gone in on the training field and the usual round of challenge games, over the last few months,” he said.

These included games against Tyrone, Meath, Armagh and Dublin with the usual mixed results.

Ray added: “The results did not really matter all we wanted was the opportunity to develop a system of play and get game time into a very committed group of players that we have, we won some and lost some but every game we learned something new.”

As for Kerry, Ray knows exactly what they will bring: “They play a fast open brand of football, are well organised and have a lot of speed in key areas, but they are like ourselves, it’s a first outing and championship is different to everything else.”

There are a couple of dual players involved so hopefully they will come through unscathed from the hurling final on Tuesday.

Sean Coakley, Gearoid Daly and Billy Curtin are other key players in the squad.

Predicting a winner is difficult as it always it at this level between Cork and Kerry.

The one thing we know is that Limerick or Tipperary await a week later and for the finalists it’s an extra game in the All-Ireland series, so hopefully we will get to see a bit more of this Cork team in competitive action in the weeks ahead.

Munster Under 20 Hurling Final

Cork v Clare on Monday in the Gaelic Grounds at 7.30pm

This is the 2nd of 3 meetings between the counties and it stands 1-0 to the Banner. The 3rd game is the seniors on Sunday week in Ennis.

Cork actually sought to have this game played on Sunday next, which would have freed Eoin Downey to play, but because of that ridiculous rule he is, unless the senior’s release him, going to miss out playing in a final at his own grade.

To be fair Clare are also missing a key player in Adam Hogan as under the same rule he cannot play.

Most inter-county managers in both codes have expressed their annoyance at this rule, but as Ben O’Connor said after beating Limerick: “Do the GAA ever listen to managers?”

When these sides met in the group phase, Cork won a cracking contest in Ennis, but Clare showed enough that night and in their comfortable win over Tipperary in the semi-final, and in Thurles as well, to suggest they will be formidable opposition on Monday.

They have good quality players all over the field.

Aaron Shanahan is an excellent goalkeeper fronted by John Connolly, J Collins, Ian Mc Namara and Daithi Lohan.

The attack which was lethal in the semi-final with Patrick Crotty, David Kennedy and Keith Smyth a handful for any defence.

Cork were very impressive in the group phase, never more so then in the last game against Limerick.

Already in the final and resting a few players, they won a cracker, even when reduced to 14 for the last 12 minutes, it actually ended Limerick’s interest in the championship, and they were the holders.

There is a very balanced look to the team and as evidenced last time out there is depth in the squad, and while injuries have not helped.

A few are returning including Kevin Lyon’s whose availability gives the selectors further options.

Brion Saunderson has hardly put a foot wrong between the posts.

Mark Howell made an impact on his introduction as a substitute and looks set to keep the number jersey alongside Shane Kingston and Darragh O’Sullivan.

In the expected absence of Eoin Downey, Ben O’Connor is not a bad replacement to have.

The attack as a unit has racked up big and important scores when the need was greatest.

Ben Cunningham from both play and placed balls has been central while William Buckley’s pace has ripped defences apart.

Adam O’Sullivan, Colin Walsh, Timmy Wilk, Diarmuid Healy and Ross O’Sullivan have all made vital contributions - picking the starting 6 will not be easy.

They are 2 very good teams which should make for an intriguing encounter, but Cork look better balanced and with more firepower in attack, should win and head into the All-Ireland Final where the Leinster champions await.

Munster Ladies Football Championship

Cork v Waterford on Sunday in Clonakilty 2pm

With 10 minutes left in their game with Kerry last Sunday, Cork trailed by 10 points and on the brink of suffering a defeat that might have ended their campaign.

However, they showed commendable spirit and determination to score 2-4 without replay in that period to secure a draw and keep their destiny in their own hands. It’s effectively a semi-final in West Cork on Sunday where the winners will progress to the final and a likely meeting with Kerry.

Cork manager Shane Roynane was thrilled: “Absolutely delighted with the spirit shown. The girls never gave up and in the end got their just reward.”

Shane was unhappy with a couple of refereeing decisions that went against his team at vital stages: “I could not understand the penalty awarded to Kerry, while at the other end we were denied one, but look that’s swings and roundabouts and we go again next week.”

Getting a draw with the newly crowned league champions is a measure of improvement this team, which is middle of redevelopment phase, given a number of stalwarts of recent years are no longer involved.

Again, that pleased Shane: “Without question and when we named the team on Friday there was disappointment by some players and that is understandable and good to see, but how they responded shows how much as a group we are improving.”

Orlaith Cahalane made a big impact when introduced scoring 1-1, while Marie O’Callaghan also made a significant impact in her 10 minute cameo.

Katie Quirke, Melissa Duggan, Libby Coppinger, Doireann O’Sullivan, Erika O’Shea and Ciara O’Sullivan are all big players in this side.

Waterford have improved immeasurably in recent years and have regularly tested Cork, but with home advantage and a place in the final at stake I expect a home win, even if it will once again be close.

The Munster and All-Ireland Championships might be separate competitions but seeding comes into play after they are completed so a win might smooth the path for a longer summer. The decision to play the game in Clonakilty is also to be commended. While it’s adds a few miles onto the Waterford journey it helps in promoting the game.

Munster Senior Hurling Championship

The drama in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last Saturday night before 36,765 spectators showed all that is good about a highly competitive Munster championship, in comparison to the mundane and one sided affairs in Leinster.

Tipperary will feel it’s a point lost given they were the better team for the most part, but Cork’s battling qualities surfaced and it earned them, what could prove to be an invaluable point, in the race for 1 of the 3 spots on offer for progression.

The maths are simple. Win in Ennis on Sunday week and they will advance, but that is going to be a tough 70 plus minutes, but they have shown they are well up for whatever challenges faces them. Robbie O’Flynn is likely to miss that game but the bench showed their class last Saturday and that might influence the selection, and Sean O’Donoghue might also come into consideration.

Clare face Waterford on Saturday in Thurles and while they will be expected to win, there’s surely a kick in Waterford after 2 poor displays and with Davey facing Lohan, well draw your own conclusions.

There is a bit to run in this championship yet, and Cork in control of their own destiny.

Minor Hurling

It was not to be for the minors on Tuesday last as they were beaten by a very good Clare team and afterwards Manager Kieran Murphy had no complaints.

Kieran was full of praise for the effort the lads put in, with particular reference to Killegh’s Barry Walsh who played a short few days after his father’s passing. He turned in a brilliant display scoring 0-9, and was without question Cork’s standout player, a measure of the young lad given the very tough week he and his family endured. He did them and his late father proud. Cork now go into the All-Ireland series where they will play the Leinster champions, expected to be Galway, in a couple of weeks.