THERE is no denying that the most disappointing display by a Cork team in 2013 was served up by the Under 21 hurlers.
Although a provincial title had eluded the Rebels since 2007, they had been reasonably competitive over the past five seasons, not least in 2012 when, having led for most of the match, they were pipped at the post by Tipperary at Pairc Uí Chaoimh.
With several of last year's squad available again, including senior players Conor Lehane of Midleton, Na Piarsaigh's Chris Joyce and Newtownshandrum's Jamie Coughlan, it was felt they had the potential to turn the tables when rivalry was renewed in the Munster semi-final at Thurles.
It turned out to be a gross mismatch, however, as Tipp hit the ground running, and they were ten points ahead at one stage in the first half. Cork, with Bishopstown's Brian Murray and Carrigaline's Rob O'Shea to the fore at midfield, did rally before half time, landing six points on the trot, and when substitute Mark Sugrue of Bandon bagged a goal to trim the deficit to the minimum shortly after the restart, it seemed as they might be ready to drive on to victory.
As if to punish the visitors for their audacity, Tipp smoothly raised the tempo again, and they looked in a different class as they powered to a 5-19 to 2-13 win, with Cork's second goal coming from another sub, Cian Buckley of Na Piarsaigh, near the end.
The minor hurlers began their campaign with a win over Clare in a remarkable match at Pairc Uí Rinn. Aided by goals by Ballyhea's Pa O'Callaghan, from a penalty, and Castlelyons' Anthony Spillane, Cork moved eights points ahead inside six minutes, but they went in at half time three points in arrears.
Another goal from O'Callaghan gave Cork a badly-needed boost shortly after the restart, but the issue remained in the balance until O'Callaghan really cut loose when the crunch came, notching four points as the Rebels outscored the Banner boys by five to one in the last ten minutes to finish 3-15 to 2-14 to the good.
Cork again blew hot and cold in the Munster semi-final against Waterford, but they came out on the wrong side of the result this time. They were certainly shaping up like winners when, with Bandon's Michael Cahalane bagging an early goal, they led by 1-7 to 0-1 with 20 minutes gone, but Waterford improved steadily before half time, and they were marginally the better side for much of the second half.
The teams were tied at the end of the hour, but Cork's prospects suffered a severe setback when they were reduced to 14 players early in the first period of extra time. They eventually went under by 3-19 to 1-20 to a Waterford side that, after losing a Munster final replay against Limerick, later took the backdoor route to the top at All-Ireland level.
Numbered among Cork's leading lights over the two games were O'Callaghan, Spillane Cahalane, Mallow's Killian O'Connor, Kilmichael's Peter Kelleher and Newtownshandrum's Conor Twomey.
There was no joy either for Cork's intermediate hurlers, who did advance to a Munster final when Inniscarra's Colm Casey scored two goals as they ousted Clare in their opening assignment.
They went denied provincial glory by Tipperary in a game that could have gone either way at Thurles where the marksmanship of Kildorrery's Peter O'Brien, who notched 12 points, 10 from frees, and the strong displays from defenders Mark Ellis (Millstreet), John O'Callaghan (Inniscarra) and Tadgh Healy (Buttevant) wasn't enough to prevent Cork from succumbing by 0-19 to 0-18.