Hayes hails resilience as Rebels book final spot
Cork 2-15 Monaghan 1-16
After enduring plenty of heartbreak along the way Cork U-21 boss Seán Hayes breathed a sigh of relief after a superb attacking display saw his side deservedly qualify for a final meeting with Mayo on April 30.
The superior scoring power of the free-scoring Rebels, who hit all 17 scores from play, eventually ground down stubborn Monaghan resistance with magnificent displays from Seán O'Donoghue, Seán Powter and man-of-the-match Michael Hurley.
The trio kicked 0-10 between them and allied with first-half goals from Ryan Harkin and Peter Kelleher, Cork proved full value for their two-point victory with the Farney men over-reliant on Barry McGinn, who shot 1-4 from play in the opening half.
A relieved Hayes lauded the efforts of his physically-imposing side but stressed that the job is only half done ahead of their showdown with the Connacht champions later this month.
"It's great for this team. We've been at it three years, we were unlucky two years ago against Roscommon and last year we were pipped in the Munster final. Now we're in the final, the job really is to win the final, not just get into it so we've a lot of work to do in the next two weeks," Hayes said.
"We knew what to expect from Monaghan and they didn't disappoint. They were hard, they were tough, they carried the ball well but our fellas were kind of ready for that and I thought they positioned themselves well to curtail Monaghan to a degree.
"They (Mayo) will obviously be the favourites, they beat Dublin and they're a very good team. I only saw bits of it but I'll sit down later and watch it. They're a good team and we'll expect a huge challenge."
Monaghan led 0-4 to 0-3 after a frenetic opening thanks to some superb point-taking from McGinn before Rebel senior Kelleher scrambled the ball to the net after a lung-bursting run from O'Donoghue, who looked to have overcarried the ball and delivered a dubious handpass to the big No 14.
McGinn fired back immediately, however, when finishing spectacularly past Anthony Casey. James Mealiff's strong run split the Cork defence and McGinn's beautiful sidestep set up an exquisite finish. Donal Meegan followed up to leave them two ahead, 1-5 to 1-3 midway through the half.
Cork fired back strongly with points from Harkin, Brian Coakley and O'Donoghue before Harkin provided the finishing touch to a well-worked team goal involving the influential Hurley and Coakley. The Rebels would never be headed thereafter but the Farney men did finish strong through McGinn and Fearghal McMahon to leave just one it at the break, 2-7 to 1-9.
Hurley and McMahon, who was strangely substituted after hitting his third point, swapped scores on the resumption but with Hurley, Powter and O'Donoghue on fire in attack, Monaghan couldn't close the gap to less than than two points again.
Subs Ronan O'Toole and Stephen Sherlock hit fine scores and with dangerman McGinn under wraps, Ciaran McBride's side couldn't land a telling blow, although Dessie Ward was off target with a decent goal chance.
Cork didn't score for the last ten minutes an Monaghan pushed for a second goal but to no avail as Hayes' side held on to set up a repeat of the 2006 final as they bid for their first EirGrid All-Ireland U-21 crown since 2009.
While the Rebel seniors endured a disappointing spring, suffering relegation from Division 1, the signs for the future are very promising on Leeside. None more so than the exciting Hurley, younger brother of senior star Brian.
"The chest was pounding there near the end but it's great to get over the line," Hurley said. "It was fairly compact early on but as the game went on they were down a few points and got rid of their sweeper which was good for us forwards. That's my game, try to get a bit of space and take on the man.
"It doesn't get much better than this, we're after having a few tough losses at minor and last year in the Munster final so it's great to be in the final. We can't wait for it."
Monaghan boss McBride couldn't hide his disappointment and felt his side didn't themselves justice.
"You're hoping that Cork are going to come with a "B" game rather than an "A" game. Unfortunately they brought their "A" game and we didn't bring ours, that's what cost us," he said.
"The lads are devastated because they know for a lot of them this could be the end of their county career."
Scorers - Cork: R Harkin 1-1, S O'Donoghue 0-4, P Kelleher 1-0, M Hurley and S Powter 0-3 each, B Coakley 0-2, R O'Toole, S Sherlock 0-1 each. Monaghan: B McGinn 1-6 (2f), C McCarthy (1f) and F McMahon 0-3 each, D Ward, C Forde (f), R McAnespie and D Meegan 0-1 each.
Cork - A Casey; M McSweeney, J Mullins, D Quinn; K Flahive, S Cronin, K Histon; S White, S O'Leary; S O'Donoghue, S Powter, R Harkin; B Coakley, P Kelleher, M Hurley. Subs: E Lavers for S O'Leary (ht), R O'Toole for D Quinn (40), S Sherlock for B Coakley (BC 44), D Ó Duinnín for R Harkin (55), C Dorgan for S Powter (61).
Monaghan - C Forde; B Kerr, K Loughran, M Murnaghan; D Ward, J Mealier, N Rooney; N Ploughman, A Lynch; R McAnespie, B McGinn, D Meegan; A Treanor, C McCarthy, F McMahon. Subs: F Maguire for A Treanor (17), A Curran for A Lynch (35), B McBennett for F McMahon (39).
Ref - J Hickey (Carlow)