Alan Connolly scores Cork’s first goal despite the efforts of Craig Morgan and Michael Breen of Tipperary at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles last Sunday. Cork won 4-30 to 1-21. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Hurling titles on the line for the Cork Under 20s

The drama surrounding the Munster Senior Hurling Championship goes on and on and with just 2 games remaining, only Tipperary are out of the equation.

For Pat Ryan and his charges it’s strange week, they look like they will progress but given all that has happened in the last 2 rounds is there another twist in the story?

Of the 9 possible permutations, brilliantly put together by Denis Hurley of the Echo, 7 have Cork progressing with 2 saying their season is over.

All we can do is sit back, we won’t be able to relax, and watch events unfold and hope that in a few weeks time, we are looking forward to playing either Laois or Offaly in a preliminary All-Ireland quarter-final.

There’s enough to keep us occupied with U20 and minor hurling coming while the Cork camogie team also starting their All-Ireland campaign.

Munster Under 20 Hurling Final

Cork v Tipperary on Friday in the Gaelic Grounds Limerick at 8pm

“Absolutely thrilled but not surprised given the character in this group, there was a lot said, outside of the camp, after we lost to Tipperary, but I never doubted them and it showed out there tonight.” So said Cork Under 20 hurling manager Ben O’Connor after the dramatic win over Clare in Ennis last Friday night.

Now it’s a rematch with the Premier County in the final and Ben is relishing the challenge. “Really looking forward to it, we had no complaints the last night - Tipp were deserving winners, but we’ll enjoy tonight get back at it on Monday and we will be ready.”

With regard to the changes made to the team, particularly in defence Ben said: “It’s hard picking the team, in fact even the squad. There are so many in contention, but delighted for Cillian (Tobin) outstanding at centre-back and behind him Denis (Cashman) was flicking balls away for fun, thrilled for everyone.”

It was yet another roller coaster of a contest, Cork seemingly in control for long periods suddenly found themselves behind as the clock inched passed the 55 minute mark, but what a response and impact again, off the bench.

Adam O’Sullivan clipped over a point, then his powerful run set up another substitute Barry O’Flynn for the crucial goal.

Then you had Hugh O’Connor, captain of the Under 20 football team, starting his first game. It was also O’Flynn’s first involvement on match day this campaign. O’Connor was industrious hit a nice point, a few others fell short but game time will bring that on.

Timmy Wilk made an important contribution when introduced and put his hand up for a starting place.

William Buckley was the star of the show with 0-9, with some brilliant ones, but the deploying of Tobin at centre-back was the game changer, nothing went past him and the defence, though at times a bit casual, was rock solid, with goalkeeper Paudie O’Sullivan outstanding.

Tipperary though represents a real test. Their minors delivered on Monday, now they will want to end a tough week on a high with a 2nd Munster title in 5 days.

Manager Brendan Cummins will also drill it into his players that what they did once beat Cork.

That game was in Thurles and Cork were already guaranteed a semi-final spot, so may have been a bit complacent.

Even then though they were excellent and won comfortably, with Senan Butler bagging a hat-trick of goals, Darragh McCarthy was unerring with his free taking, Paddy McCormack, Cathal English and Conor Martin all troubled and tormented an out of sorts Cork defence on the night.

While their own defence was well marshalled by Ben Currivan, Aaron O’Halloran and Podge O’Dwyer, in fact of Cork’s tally of 0-18, only 0-12 came from play.

Cork showed just why they are champions by the manner of their semi-final win, and with some players playing below par they still prevailed, the re-shaped team getting the job done.

Kevin Lyons and Darragh O’Sullivan were outstanding at the back; Diarmuid Healy and Barry Walsh had important contributions in attack.

It’s a tough one to call and on the evidence of their last meeting Tipperary might start as slight favourites, but Cork were hurting after that display as it did not reflect their true qualities.

The one thing they will need this time though is a consistent 60 plus minutes. They have had poor periods in games and were punished, avoid that and they could very well be on course for back to back titles.

Cork to win, and continue the feel good factor reverberating around the county just now.

Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship

Cork v Wexford on Saturday in Semple Stadium Thurles at 4pm

The format of the Minor Hurling Championship seems to change every year and the 2024 version is no different and despite two defeats, to the teams Clare and Tipperary that contested the final, Cork are still alive.

Having 4 teams come out of a 5 team championship is a bit unusual, but in the aftermath of the loss to Clare, selector Seanie McGrath was pleased they were not out.

“Obviously we would have preferred to win tonight and we felt good coming into the game but Clare were much better and we have no complaints; it means we just go back now and reset for the next game.”

Seanie did agree that they were in part architects of our own downfall. “We were sloppy all over the field, our distribution was poor and we coughed up some bad scores.”

Cork played well in patches for most of their games in the championship but will need a better return from that attack if they are to progress as there is an over reliance on Mark O’Brien for scores.

Michael Tadgh Brosnan while not a prolific scorer has worked hard and created several scoring opportunities in what is perceived to be a roaming role, while Adam Lee has also impressed in their games to date.

Riain O’Riordan, Liam Kelleher and Kevin Beechinor have been the best of the defence.

Wexford made the semi-final of the Leinster Championship losing to Dublin having also lost to them in the group stages and like Cork will view this as the ideal opportunity to extend their season.

Sean O’Brien who scored 1-6 in the semi-final, Kevin O’Mahoney, Jack Dunne, Eoin Hughes, Ryan Donohoe and Colin Carley all played well in the Leinster series and manager Michael Jacob will look to these lads as they bid for the victory.

The composition of the Cork team will be interesting. Will John Meyler make a host of changes or will he stick with the bulk of the group that has got them this far? Whatever 15 is chosen, a much improved display will be required if not their season will come to an end.

Glen Dimplex All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship

Cork v Wexford on Saturday in Páirc Uí Rinn at 2pm

Having picked up their first piece of silverware in Thurles last Sunday, manager Ger Manley was delighted with the win. “It’s always nice to get a cup and doing it here before a good Cork crowd made it better again. Waterford as I knew they would, made it tough but we got the job done.”

There was some aspects of their play that he was disappointed with: “We missed a few chances that would have made it more comfortable, equally I thought they got some very soft frees but we won and that’s all that matters.”

The game was ideal preparation for Saturday. “Perfect really, we had a good hard block of training done now, and with the games coming on week on week we won’t be able to do that, so it’s just a case from here on in of getting our tactics right and being a bit sharper all over the field.”

As for Wexford, “they have been down for a while but are improving all the time and we will give them as we do every team the utmost respect and hopefully get off to a winning start as we must go to Down the following week.”

There’s mixed news on the injury front. Laura Tracey might not make this game but could be available for the trip north, not so good on Libby Coppinger who had surgery last week and could be set for a long spell on the sideline, which is a blow.

Wexford are not the force they once were and plied their trade in Division 2 of the league for a couple of years but they have shown steady improvement and will relish the opportunity of taking on the champions even away from home.

In many respects it’s the ideal game for them to start with, they are rank outsiders and I don’t think they are yet at Cork’s level, but a good battling performance will give them encouragement for the remainder of the campaign.

With 3 teams coming out of the group, the top team goes to the semi-final, 2nd and 3rd to the quarter-finals that will probably be their target.

Cork with all their key players bar the odd injury exception, are in good shape as illustrated by the impact Clodagh Finn, Cliona Healy and Orlaith Mullins made off the bench in Thurles, add in the Mackeys, Saoirse McCarthy, Laura Hayes and Amy O’Connor and it all points to a Cork win.

Footballers start with win

In the euphoria of the 2 hurling wins, the footballers’ victory in Ennis has slipped under the radar. It was important given that Donegal and Tyrone are next up and it was a game that perfectly summed up their season. Cork were clearly the better team but once again the failure to turn possession into scores left them vulnerable, but in the end they got the job done, summed up perfectly by manager John Cleary. “Frustrating at times with the missed chances, but we came up here last year and lost. We got what we wanted, the win and the 2 points, so it’s back to training and prepare for Donegal in two weeks time.”

Season still alive, and let’s hope the hurlers are in the same position around 5.30pm next Sunday.