Cork's Houdini boys bank on work ethic to seal final berth
IF the Cork senior side dug themselves out of a hole in Croke Park last Sunday, their minors were already old hands at it.
Ahead of tomorrow's All-Ireland minor semi-final clash with Galway, Brian Cuthbert's side have made late escapes their calling card.
In the Munster final, the deftest of chips from corner-forward Brian Hurley gave the Rebels a one-point win over Kerry and they performed a similar stunt against a fancied Armagh side in the quarter-final.
On that occasion, substitute Stephen O'Mahony poked the ball home in injury-time to defeat an Armagh side that had amassed 0-19 in a wonderful display of attacking football.
"Looking back at it, maybe Armagh should have cleaned us out," Cuthbert admitted. "When you score 19 points, you don't expect to lose.
"I don't think the lads will mind me saying this, but we haven't got any superstars. They are a very honest and hard-working bunch. They have great character and they have shown that so far."
After serving for two years as selector with the county's minor side, Cuthbert made the step up to management this year.
This group had pedigree. At U-16 level, Cork's 'city' selection played the 'county' equivalent in the Munster final, but Cuthbert reckons 'only six or seven' made the progression to this minor team.
They spread the net wide and far this year. Glengarriff's Matthew O'Shea is the first footballer from his club to play for Cork at any level since the 1940s and the full-back is in with the likes of Nemo Rangers' Alan Cronin, who is on the panel for the third consecutive year.
Damian Cahalane, son of Niall, maintains the link to great Cork teams of the past.
Five of the squad were involved in club championship action last Tuesday night and all came through unscathed, meaning that, for the first time this season, Cuthbert and his selectors have a full squad to pick from.
"We've had a few problems," he said.
"Our captain Daniel Fitzgerald has been sick and then he picked up an injury. We had a few other bits too, but we have everyone for this game. I've seen Galway in the Connacht final on DVD and they're physically very strong.
"They put it up to Mayo that day, but conceded a few goals in a quick spell. Mayo probably should have beaten Tyrone the last day, so that shows you how good they are. I also saw them against Longford, but that was an awful day for football, so you can't really take anything from that."
Similarly, Galway have dug deep this year to grind out results. Their opening game against New York resulted in a facile win, but they were pushed all the way by Sligo and they also learned much from the Connacht final defeat to Mayo, according to Tribesmen manager Gerry Fahy.
"The win against Sligo was important because if you lost that day you were out of the championship. Then against Mayo we learned that we could play with the best of them. That gave us belief and the lads pulled the All-Ireland quarter-final against Longford out of the fire with five late points to win."
Galway are without captain Eanna O hEochaidh and defender Philip Ezergalis, but Thomas Flynn returns from injury to take his place at centrefield, along with Colm McDonnacha, who starts at corner-back. Up front, stand-in skipper Fiontan O Curraoin and Peadar O Griofa will be expected to provide the scores.
However, Fahy, who managed Offaly's senior footballers in 2004, is unsure as to how his players will react to their first Croke Park outing.
"Cork have already played there (against Armagh) and I think that will be a big plus for them. None of our lads have played in Croke Park before. You never know how minors will respond and I'm sure there will be nerves. But they are a great team and they have given a lot to this, so they'll give it all they have, I have no doubt about that."